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:

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.

Stay tuned.

Sue Woltanski.

Sue is a member of the Monroe County School District. Her views here do not necessarily reflect those of the Board.

Our Key West community is fortunate. In all the cities and towns in our great democracy, none has a better mayor than KW.

Our KW form of government doesn’t give our mayor the authority most mayors have. In spite of this, our mayor, Teri Johnston, leads by example every day and focuses on what’s best for our community. No one works harder, listens more sincerely, and is more conscientious and honest about implementing what voters need now and in the future.

The most recent example is the professional and honest evaluation of senior staff’s effectiveness in serving the community and the commissioners. Sadly, and for self-interest reasons, all the commissioners gave the current City Attorney (the powerful and highest-paid government employee) an “outstanding” grade for serving citizens and the commissioners. In contrast, a majority of KW citizens have complained about the City Attorney’s obvious obstruction of the voters’ will, expressed by election, and habit of supporting wealthy dark interests in the Cruise Ship business while refusing to follow the commissioner’s instructions.

It’s hard to explain why good commissioners, who knew and understood the City Attorney’s nonfeasance and malfeasance, gave false praise to the highest-paid insubordinate in local government. Perhaps there is fear or indebtedness involved where accuracy and faithfulness to public duty should have been.

The lesson here is that in the future, KW voters need to elect individuals who are honest, and independent, and put community before self-interest – like Mayor Teri.

Roger Kostmayer

It’s not definite yet, but there is evidence that some sanity is returning to national politics. The ground may be slowly shifting away from irrational clan-like lies. If so, this is good for our nation, good for bipartisanship, and it may be changing November’s election results.

The 538 polling company now gives the Democrats a slight edge to increase their control of the Senate in November, while they project a lead for Republicans in the House of Representatives. But in both cases the Dems seem to have the momentum, in spite of the fact that President Biden still has “favorable” ratings from the electorate in the 30% – 40% range.

90 days (until Election Day) is an eternity in politics, and a rising tide for the Dems is being produced by the confluence of unusual factors that could overwhelm traditional voting tendencies. These factors include: 

  • The January 6 assault on our Capitol
  • The January 6 Congressional hearings
  • The popular opinion that wrong-doers should be accountable
  • The attempts to take personal rights and privacy (abortion) from women
  • The (often) bipartisan recent legislation addressing what the majority needs and wants such as infrastructure, global warming, military weapons regulations, anti-inflation, minimum taxes on huge corporations, Veteran’s health
  • The 63% vote by red Kansas to protect women’s right to abortions

It’s significant that a majority of Americans want these legislative solutions; and Republican politicians don’t.

Last week in Tallahassee, Patricia McGrath and Laurie Swanson (Middle Keys) met Jean Siebenaler (from the panhandle) and Dee Melvin (from the Villages) to observe the Special session of the Florida legislature. The subject of the Special Session, called by Ron DeSantis, was to take up Florida property insurance. Ostensibly the session was to address the rising costs of property insurance with the goal of taming the runaway rate increases levied by insurance companies. Exorbitant rates that are often devastating to homeowners.

We settled first in the Senate Appropriations Committee to see the bill (2D) being legislated; then moved to the House Appropriations Committee to see the bill legislated there. I expected a give and take of ideas during this part of the legislative process. Instead, I saw a bill fully constructed in some secret place and plopped onto the legislative floors. These bills came fully formed from the governor’s office it seems. The bills were not changed from the original no matter how many suggestions were made for improving the bill or improving outcomes for the homeowner.

Oh yes, the Democrats tried to change the bill by presenting amendments, amendments that were summarily voted down mostly with “no” voice votes. When 5 hands went up there was a compulsory recorded individual vote. At that time, the congressperson was to flick a switch on their desk to register a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote. During these amendment presentations and votes many of the congress people were out of the room and so a neighboring congress person voted for the absent congress person. In other words, a quorum was not present on the floor for most of the votes on amendments and the votes were not posted by the congress persons themselves. I saw Rep. Melo (80) vote for Keys’ Rep. Mooney (120) on numerous occasions. Mooney repaid the favor by voting for Melo by activating the switch on her desk when she was absent.

Rep. Mooney casts vote for Rep. Melo while she was absent. Melo voted for Mooney on numerous occasions while Mooney was not at his desk during the vote.

I learned that DFS (Department of Financial Services) and OIR (Office of Insurance Regulators) are the two offices whose job it is to hold insurance companies to the statute. They are to collect data and watch where the money goes. The members of OIR are appointed by the governor.

Through discussion (labeled debate) on the insurance bill, that is soon to become Florida law, it became apparent that OIR had collected little or no data on the state of the current insurance companies. Data needed to craft the current legislation. Legislators asked for that data numerous times and were told that it did not exist. When asked how they could know how to craft a bill to improve insurance rates without data, they were either stonewalled or told there was no data. Yet the proponents of the bill would not call into question actuarial tables used by the insurance company—data that no one had bothered to access or perhaps it was hidden in the back room where this bill came from.

When legislators asked why OIR did not do its job, various excuses were proffered. It was confirmed that OIR, who has the power to deny rate increases proposed by individual insurance companies, has persistently rubber-stamped double digit rate increases. The main reason proffered by the Republican sponsors of the bill for OIR’s failure was that OIR had ~ 13 regulators to cover the whole state of Florida and a 22% vacancy. Proponents of the bill said it was not possible to fill those positions because private industry pays more. Why does Florida only have 13 people in OIR when comparable states have many multiples of 13 to regulate their insurance companies?

The bill’s highlights as discussed were as follows:

  • Insurance will be granted for roofs over 15 years if the roof, after an official inspection funded by the owner, indicates that the roof has 5 more good years. If the roof is found wanting the owner will be denied insurance on the roof.
  • There will be 2 types of roof insurance offered to the homeowner. The no-deductible roof insurance will be at the ballooning rates that are in force today with no cap. Insurance companies are required sign up for RAP (Reinsurance to Assist Policyholders) this year or next. That program allows the insurance companies to offer homeowners roof insurance policies with up to 50% deductible. There is no provision in the law that forces the insurance company to lower rates on these policies.  Also, the State is putting up $2 billion for the insurance companies to fund this program. Representative Geller pointed out that if the homeowner cannot pay the deductible which could be thousands of dollars, they could lose their house. Shoulder shrug by the Republican proponent of the bill.
  • The insurance company can drop the homeowner mid-claim if the homeowner challenges the insurance company for non-payment of claims. Many of the Democrat led amendments tried to rectify this. It was classed by Rep. Trumbull (the proponent of the bill) as an unfriendly amendment. “Unfriendly to who?” Shrug. Note that this leaves the homeowner without a fixed roof and unable to get other insurance because they have an open claim.
  • In egregious cases when the insurance company is the bad actor, judges will not be able to penalize the insurance company by multiplying the award to the homeowner for his mistreatment.
  • This bill allows the insurance companies to draw out the claim payout for years with no penalty on the insurance company. The insurance company is within their rights to put off an appraisal for years if they so wish.
  • This bill does not consider that climate continues to aid and abet the destruction of property in Sunshine State. There is no provision for climate change in the bill. Hurricane and sea level rise are not addressed.
  • Trumbull (R) and company admitted that it would make no difference in ballooning rates this year and possibly not for 18 months. He also said there is no guarantee that rates will come down at all even with 50% deductible.

It came to light during the debate session that was not a debate, but a statement of position, that this bill fulfils the insurance companies wish list. SB-HB 2 disables the consumer and rewards the insurance companies by allowing them to continue the shell game that they have been playing for years. Democrats charged (not refuted) that when an insurance company is in trouble or wants to exit the Florida market, they can offload assets to a sister company and declare bankruptcy. This leaves their customers with no insurance and/or unable to get their claims filled. This bill was created without any verifiable statistics. Statistics were not verifiable because OIR did not collect any statistics. This bill was created to fix problems that were no more than rumors and hearsay proffered by the insurance companies. The session was called and executed on such short notice that there was little time to write a bill that considered possibilities that would be sounder. The bill was passed as it came in from the governor’s office probably right out of the insurance lobby.

At 1:25PM on Wednesday, May 25th, Mooney got up and gave a speech praising the bill. He said that the insurance problems will not be fixed this week, but “this bill is better than doing nothing.”

Rep. Mooney sending and reading emails while amendments were presented. Mooney voted “no” on all amendments.

FYI Monroe County and Miami/Dade are not covered by this insurance. We are covered by the insurance company of the last resort—Citizens.

Watching the sham that masquerades for Florida government was incredibly disappointing to me and my fellow travelers.