Florida librarians are now required to attend specialized training on new state rules

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – School librarians in Florida are now required to undergo specialized state training on the new rules for what can and cannot go in school media centers.

That training was a result of a state law passed last year and finalized last week. Citizens now have an opportunity to weigh in as it’s reviewed by the state school board.

This was part of that wave of legislation aimed at putting a lot more control over how schools instruct and talk about race, gender identity and sexual orientation.

The aim of these laws is to more tightly direct how library and instructional materials are chosen and make the entire process more transparent.

As of Jan. 1, the people who curate libraries and instructional books and media in Florida schools are legally required to undergo comprehensive training on the rules that dictate the process.

The list of rules includes criteria like:

  • Avoiding unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination
  • Considering the age of the students who could access material
  • Materials should serve an educational purpose

It also requires that media specialists consider “the broad racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural diversity of the students of this state.”

One section of the training also tells staffers that instructional material should “not contain any matter reflecting unfairly upon persons because of their race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, religion, disability, socioeconomic status or occupation.”

“There absolutely should be a challenge process, parents should be able to question things that are materials because again, media specialists were just one person,” said Kathleen Daniels, president of “FAME,” the Florida Association of Media in Education.

Daniels said though that the rules are problematic in that they hinge on subjective terms like “age-appropriate” which can carry a completely different standard depending on which family you ask.

Daniels, a parent, said parental rights should be respected.

“What should not be respected or allowed is for my views to dictate what another student can or cannot read. That’s where, you know, we as media specialists really have to draw a line,” she said.

Irene Morse is on the library committee of Landrum Middle School in St. Johns County. She said the rules are attempting to solve a nonexistent problem.

“I think there’s not a lot of forward-thinking with this,” said Morse, who is also a parent of a St. Johns County student. “I don’t know that we’re really solving a problem that exists at all.”

Most troubling for Morse is that the rules allow a single person in the district to object to materials to trigger a review even if that person hasn’t done any education or training.

Recently, one St. Johns County parent, Jean Moore, filed 49 objections to school district books prompting a series of meetings and a final ruling by the St. Johns County School Board.

“Is Florida looking down at experience? Are we saying experience doesn’t matter? And just having an opinion is sufficient to educate our kids?” Morse said.

So, what happens now?

Florida law states that by July 1, and every year moving forward, each superintendent across the state will need to send notice to the Florida Department of Education that all school librarians and media specialists have undergone the training.

The general public also has a chance to weigh in on these new rules.