Officials in at least two Florida school districts have ordered teachers to remove books from their classroom libraries or to cover them up in order to comply with draconian statutes enacted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-led state legislature.
House Bill 1467, passed last year, requires books to be age-appropriate and free from material deemed to be pornographic. The vagueness of the law, however, allows parents and community members to lodge complaints if they take issue with books that have LGBTQ characters or themes, or discuss the history of racism in the United States.
The law requires all books to be off-limits until a media specialist appointed by the district can approve them. Since many teachers have hundreds of titles in their classrooms, however, the task of approving books can be long and arduous, forcing many teachers in the state to cover up their bookshelves for the time being.
Teachers who do not comply with the law could be fined up to $5,000, or imprisoned up to five years.
Both Manatee County School District and Duval County School District have told teachers to remove their books or cover them up until media specialists finish the approval process, documents obtained by The Washington Post show.
The Manatee County district’s order tells teachers specifically to “remove or cover all materials that have not been vetted” and that, in the future, any library books added to classroom libraries must be “reviewed by a media specialist using the [Florida Department of Education] guidelines” before being “presented and approved” at a school meeting. The school’s principal must also sign off on the book titles.
Duval County’s order states that “classroom libraries will be temporarily reduced to only include … books that have been approved by certified media specialists and books on the state-approved” list.
“Books not on the district-approved list or not approved by a certified media specialist need to be covered or stored and paused for student use,” the order states.
The district has claimed that the measure is only temporary. But given the vast amount of books that have to be vetted, the order seems to be indefinite at this point.
Last month, teachers in Florida shared photos of their construction paper coverings of bookshelves, accompanied by sad “farewells” to their classroom libraries, with one teacher stating that their “heart is broken” for their students.
The teacher added that “the vetting process for new books is cumbersome, so even accepting donated books from parents and community members will not be allowed,” and that accessing the list of approved books is itself an “incredibly difficult” task.
Such laws are indicative that Florida has become “a laboratory of fascism at this point,” Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of history, race and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said in an interview on Democracy Now! last week.
“Governor DeSantis is now ground zero for paving the way for the extension of the elimination of any notion that we live in an open society where we get to debate ideas freely,” Muhammad added.
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