Several teachers in a school district in Florida are putting covers over books in their classroom libraries due to a vague but far-reaching law that restricts what kind of content they can share with students.
Several social media posts from teachers in the Manatee County School District show coverings over classroom libraries, accompanied by commentaries from the educators themselves expressing sadness or disgust over the effects of a law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) in March, that they say is forcing them to cover their books.
The law is framed as a way to allow parents to have the right to be part of the decision-making process over what instructional materials are used in classrooms or lessons. However, in reality, the vagueness of the legislation (and other bills like it) allows community members to attack any materials that they claim are inappropriate for children, including stories, books or other media that depict LGBTQ individuals or discuss aspects of Black history that may make them uncomfortable.
Teachers in the district were notified last week that, in order to be in compliance with the law, a certified media specialist in the district had to approve all titles present in school libraries, including in classroom libraries. Educators were advised to remove books if they hadn’t been approved yet.
But because many classrooms have dozens, sometimes hundreds, of titles in their classrooms, teachers have decided to cover their entire book collection up, fearing that if they don’t they’ll be prosecuted. Teachers or librarians in violation of the law can be charged with a felony.
Manatee County School District teachers shared their experiences on social media of having to censor themselves in order to avoid legal repercussions.
“Farewell, classroom library,” one teacher wrote.
“My heart is broken for Florida students today as I am forced to pack up my classroom library,” another teacher wrote. They added:
The vetting process for new books is cumbersome, so even accepting donated books from parents and community members will not be allowed. The process of finding the list of approved books is also incredibly difficult.
Speaking directly to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Jean Faulk, a history teacher in the district, said that some of the items in her library that weren’t yet approved included lessons on American democracy, as well as the writings of President John Adams. She felt it was necessary to cover up those and other books because of the statewide policy.
The law, Faulk said, “is totally a political move by the governor” that “has nothing to do with the students.”
“If you have a lot of books like I do, probably several hundred, it is not practical to run all of them through (the vetting process) so we have to cover them up,” Don Falls, another history teacher in the district, said to the same publication. “It is not only ridiculous but a very scary attack on fundamental rights.”
“Whether the new laws explicitly say which books are banned or not, the result is the same. A chilling effect on the 1st Amendment,” wrote former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried. “The exact opposite of FREEDOM.”
“Florida considers books to be more dangerous to students than assault rifles. This is truly a dystopian state,” tweeted civil rights attorney and transgender activist Alejandra Caraballo.