Book Banning – by Sue Woltanski
Book Banning in Florida’s Schools
There will be a lot of headlines regarding Education legislation this spring, and little of it will be good for public schools.
Currently, our schools are still reeling from the impacts of LAST year’s legislation, particularly HB7 (Stop WOKE Act), HB1557 (Don’t Say Gay) and HB 1467 (Instructional Materials). The Florida State Board of Education recently approved the new Librarian Training program, which instructs school librarian on how to select materials for the library and get rid of so-called pornography. The training was mandated in HB1467 and was created by a fantastic group of devoted media specialists, one reasonable parent and 3 angry conservative mom’s, who didn’t care if a book had literary value – if it talked about sex, especially LGBTQ sex, or CRT, they wanted it banned. The resulting training is here (Spoiler Alert: the angry mom’s won, in many ways): https://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/20102/urlt/2223FASTFactSheet.pdf.
You can read more about it here: https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2023/01/18/state-education-officials-pass-rule-on-library-book-choice
Last year was just one more legislative session aimed at labeling school libraries, and therefore public schools, as dangerous for children in the hopes that families will leave public schools for private options. When DeSantis was elected governor in 2018, he appointed to his Education Transition team two founders of the Florida Citizen’s Alliance. The Florida Citizen’s Alliance has been behind the series of “book banning” bills we have seen in the last 4 years. In 2021 the released the “2021 Porn In Schools Report” outlining books they found objectionable and encouraging individuals to challenge their presence in school libraries.
Our very own Senator Ana Maria Rodriquez filed a bill for them in 2021 (https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/410/Analyses/2021s00410.pre.cj.PDF) which initially required families to “opt-in,” in writing, to sex education classes, required districts to pro-actively remove “objectionable materials” from school libraries and would charge librarians with a felony if students were allowed to check out such materials from school libraries. The book banning portions of Senator Rodriquez’s bill were amended out in 2021 but passed during the 2022 session in HB1467.
This fall, the State Board of Education used their rules process to expand HB1557 (Don’t Say Gay) and deemed that any teacher found to violate Don’t Say Gay was breaking the law and could have their teacher certification taken away. They also threatened school librarians with a 3rd degree felony if books on the shelves were deemed “harmful.”
THE GOOD NEWS: To date, Monroe has had NO book challenges. (This is the formal process for challenging a book in MCSD: https://www.keysschools.com/cms/lib/FL02202360/Centricity/Domain/2779/MCSD%20Instructional%20Materials%20Petition%20Form.pdf)
THE BAD NEWS:
- In the current political climate, teachers and librarians are concerned regarding the risks to their careers these laws pose.
- There is rumor that a conservative group out of the Lower Keys is gearing up to challenge the book “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, which is currently found in several of our middle and high schools. (https://www.amazon.com/Hate-U-Give-Angie-Thomas/dp/0062498533)
It is my belief that book banners have never been on the right side of history and children should be encouraged to read everything they can get their hands on. I also believe parents have a responsibility to oversee their own child’s reading but they should not be able to restrict books from other children.
There are several organizations currently following trends in book banning across the state and nation:
- Florida Freedom to Read Project: A 501c4 organization of passionate citizens of Florida that believe school libraries and curriculum should be a place for all children to access information and ideas that they connect with or that gives them insight into a lived experience unlike their own. Read about them here: https://www.slj.com/story/Freedom-to-read-fight-continues-as-Florida-library-media-specialists-face-summer-of-fear-and-unknowns. On Twitter: @FLFreedomRead Website: https://www.fftrp.org
- PEN America: PEN America tracks all book bans in libraries and classrooms across the U.S. in their Index of School Book Bans. Twitter: @PENamerica Website: https://pen.org/issue/book-bans/
I would love to have a local group of individuals who would be willing to write letters to the school board or speak at school board meetings if (when) books are challenged in Monroe. In the meantime, please be aware of the challenges we face.
Sue is a member of the Monroe County School District. Her views here do not necessarily reflect those of the Board.