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Florida book bans are not a hoax
For months, Popular Information has documented how thousands of books have been removed from the shelves of Florida school libraries or have otherwise been made unavailable to Florida students. These actions were taken in response to new laws and regulations championed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R). But last week, DeSantis held a media event where he complained about the "leftist activists’ hoax of empty library bookshelves."
DeSantis claimed it was all a "false political narrative."
During the press conference, DeSantis falsely claimed that a video of empty book shelves recorded by former Duval County substitute teacher Brian Covey was a "hoax," noting that Covey was fired. It's true that Covey lost his job for recording the video, but the video was not a hoax.
A spokesperson for Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), Tracy Pierce, told Popular Information in February that the empty shelves in Covey’s video once housed “the fiction titles” in the school media center, but all those titles were removed pending review by a media specialist. That review was mandated by a "curriculum transparency" law signed by DeSantis last year.
Many schools in Duval County, including Mandarin Middle School, where Covey worked, do not have a media specialist. So the process is taking a long time. According to the most recent data released by DCPS, just 10,000 of the 1.6 million titles in Duval County schools were approved for student use. That means more than 99% of the books in the DCPS system remain inaccessible to students.
In addition to making false claims about Covey's video, DeSantis smeared teachers, claiming there was a "concerted effort to bring some of this sexualization into the classroom, particularly in these young grades."
At the event, DeSantis also distributed a fact sheet about the "book ban hoax." Nearly everything on the fact sheet is false.
The truth about classroom libraries
DeSantis' fact sheet claims it is a "myth" that "Florida schools have been directed to 'empty libraries' and 'cover classroom books.'" But that was precisely what many Florida schools directed their teachers to do in order to comply with the "curriculum transparency" law signed by DeSantis last year. The Florida Department of Education issued a regulation saying the new law required all books in classroom libraries to be reviewed by media specialists, the term Florida schools use for librarians. Since classroom libraries are created by teachers, not librarians, this required every book in classroom libraries to be reviewed.
For example, a memo created by the Manatee County School District, and distributed to principals, instructed teachers to "remove or cover all classroom libraries until all materials can be reviewed."
Teachers in Duval County and other school districts were given similar instructions.
DeSantis' fact sheet claims this is a hoax since no school district has removed more than 19 books — "not even close to a whole classroom library." But this claim confuses two separate processes. It conflates the formal challenge process for banning library books — a process that is just getting started — with the requirement to have a librarian vet every classroom library book.
In Escambia County for example, there have been challenges filed to remove 175 books from school libraries. 148 of those books have been removed from library shelves during the challenge process, which includes multiple reviews and appeals. But thus far, the Escambia County school board has considered and made a final decision on just four books. It voted to remove all four. The other 170 challenges are still pending. But, in DeSantis' intepretation of the data, Escambia would have only removed four books.
Large numbers of books have been removed pending appeal in Clay County and other school districts as well.
These challenges of individual books is entirely separate from the reviews of classroom libraries, which must be performed by librarians, mandated by the DeSantis administration. That process is why, according to data released by Duval County, more than 1.5 million books remain inaccessible to students.
The truth about what books are being banned
DeSantis' fact sheet claims it is a "myth" that "Florida is banning children’s books about Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente." But, as Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz acknowledged during the media event with DeSantis, those books were withheld from students in Duval County for more than a year. Only after the decision attracted national media attention were the books approved for student use.
Diaz claimed that the books on Aaron and Clemente were withheld from students by political partisans seeking to embarass DeSantis. But records reviewed by Popular Information reveal that they were withheld by administrators who were concerned that the books might violated the Stop WOKE Act, a law championed by DeSantis which limits certain kinds of instruction about race.
The text of the Stop WOKE Act applies to "classroom instruction" and not library books. So the DeSantis administration could clear up any confusion by confirming that the Stop WOKE Act does not apply to library books. Instead, it has refused to do so and created a training for media specialists suggesting the Stop WOKE Act does apply to library books.
The rebuttal to the myth suggests that all books removed from Florida schools contain graphic sexual content, citing three books with LGBTQ themes and one sexual educaiton book. But Florida is also banning books with no sexual content whatsoever. Escambia County just banned And Tango Makes Three, a childrens' book about two male penguins that work together to raise a baby penguin. “The fascination is still on those two male penguins," school board member David Williams said. "So I’ll be voting to remove the book from our libraries.”
The truth about felony charges for teachers
DeSantis' fact sheet claims it is a "myth" that "Florida teachers could be committing a 3rd degree felony by having books on 'certain topics' within their classrooms." But both the fact sheet and DeSantis admit this is true. DeSantis simply states that teachers would deserve a felony conviction for distributing pornography to students.
This might sound reasonable, until you learn what is now considered "pornography" in Florida. For example, Duval County rejected The Best Man, objecting that in the story "2 men marry and the young man is made the ring bearer." The book reviewer said that book violated pornography statutes because it "is portraying sexual excitement and is damaging to students." Other books frequently challenged as "pornography" in Florida include novels by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.
Librarians and teachers who give students access to books that are "unvetted" or "inappropriate" — but not pornographic — also face severe punishment. (This could potentially include books that violate the Parental Rights in Education law, also known as "Don't Say Gay," and the Stop WOKE Act.) Diaz told the National Review that such violations "would be addressed through an administrative process." That administrative process could result in a teacher having their license revoked and losing their job.
The Palm Beach Post notes that “[a]ny mention of an LGBTQ person or relationship, for example, in any context, might be declared inappropriate by the state and few teachers or administrators are willing to find out, leading to wholesale removal of books that may have artistic or educational merit.”