TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Saying Florida public schools are making sexually explicit books available to children, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Friday to give parents a say in what books schools can and can't have in their libraries.
It will force all elementary schools to provide a searchable list of every book available in their libraries or used in instruction. School boards must let the public know when they plan to consider approving new instructional books and allow anyone to comment. Any objections to the material, by a parent or not, must be reported to the state.
“Unfortunately, we've seen some books in some of these libraries, I mean you're talking about kids in middle school, some of the stuff that has ended up there is incredibly, incredibly disturbing stuff,” DeSantis said. “Parents understand when they see this. They understand how to blow the whistle on this.”
The bill also sets a 12-year term limit for school board members.
Democrats opposed the bill during the legislative session that ended earlier this month, saying that it amounts to censorship and compared it to book burning. But it aligns with DeSantis' agenda to squash school district decisions he disagrees with.
“You have some groups that want to take away classic books like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,' but they want things like, ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir,’ which is a cartoon-style book with graphic images of children performing sexual acts. That is wrong," DeSantis said. “They want to eliminate ’Of Mice and Men,' but ‘Lawn Boy,’ a book containing explicit passages of pedophilia is somehow accepted."
Democratic state Rep. Angie Nixon said the bill is part of the governor's culture wars designed to help him win the 2024 Republican nomination for president.
“The governor's actions today and his words just illustrate his political ambitions. He cares more about rallying a base of people who will support him in a future presidential bid than he does about making sure Floridians have access to housing, have access to quality health care,” she said. “The bill he signed today is going to cause more stress and strain on school systems.”
The books DeSantis mentioned were political flashpoints in Texas and Virginia and were removed from libraries. Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned on the issue.
“Gender Queer” is an autobiography by Maia Kobabe, who was born female, but now identifies as nonbinary and asexual. The School Library Journal described it as a “book to be savored rather than devoured, this memoir will resonate with teens.”
“It’s also a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand,” the review continues.
“Lawn Boy” is a semiautobiographical novel by Jonathan Evison. The Washington Post said, “Evison takes a battering ram to stereotypes about race and class" and said it's "spiked with angst and anger, but also full of humor and lots of hope."
After controversy about the book, Evison said he received death threats and explained that a passage some find objectionable is not about pedophilia, but rather an adult character recalling a sexual encounter he had as a fourth grader with another fourth grader.
DeSantis also used the bill signing ceremony to denounce critical race theory in schools, mask mandates in schools and Dr. Anthony Fauci. He also encouraged people to pay attention to school board races and vote members out.
“Florida now joins places like Russia and China, modern-day examples of what happens when free thought and free speech are tightly restricted in all levels of society, including in school,” Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said in a statement. “As a mom and a former classroom teacher — and simply an American who values freedom of speech — this is a very, very scary place to be.”