JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools is performing a mass review of all classroom libraries and media centers throughout the district after the Florida Department of Education handed down directives parallel to new state law.
“The Florida Department of Education has trained all Florida schools districts to ‘err on the side of caution’ in determining if a book is developmentally appropriate for student use,” the district said in a blog post about the decision.
The law says that all books, specifically in elementary school libraries, must be looked over by a certified media specialist who has undergone state training on the new policy. The statute requires media centers to be free from the following materials:
- Pornography – defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.”
- Instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades kindergarten through three.
- Discrimination in such a way that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
The text of the law also defines what is considered harmful to minors:
(a) Any picture, photograph, drawing, sculpture, motion picture film, videocassette, or similar visual representation or image of a person or portion of the human body which depicts nudity or sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors; or
(b) Any book, pamphlet, magazine, printed matter however reproduced, or sound recording that contains any matter defined in s. 847.001, explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, or sexual conduct and that is harmful to minors.Florida Statutes Title XLVI. Crimes § 847.012
As part of the media specialist training, Florida educators are warned that violating this policy amounts to a third-degree felony.
“Teachers will receive a list of already approved books for continued use for classroom reading while the remaining books are under review,” the district’s memo said. “District staff members are working with teachers and certified media specialists to efficiently review books and to update the list as books are reviewed and approved. The district will soon provide school staff with more specific guidance on the review process.”
The district said each book that’s deemed “appropriate” will be included in a public, online database, allowing the general public to see each book available to students.
Free speech organizations, literacy advocates and educators have blasted the policy, calling the concern over “pornography” a false flag attack to satiate Gov. Ron DeSantis’ far-right base of supporters and a veiled attempt to purge progressive ideas from Florida’s schools.
The co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, Stephana Ferrell, described the policies as “a pattern of fear-based decisions that prioritize staying in good favor with the Governor over doing the right thing for our students.”
Stephana Ferrell, a co-founder of @FLFreedomRead, said the new policy followed "a pattern of fear-based decisions that prioritize staying in good favor with the Governor over doing the right thing for our students." https://t.co/xOgbdI4rI1— PEN America (@PENamerica) January 23, 2023
Free speech advocates have identified the concept of “erring on the side of caution” as a chilling effect on free speech. A “chilling effect” occurs when certain rights are restricted due to indirect political pressure or as a result of overly vague legislation.
“This is no free state of Florida. This is a state that censors books, censors educators, and censors students and families,” Broward School Board member Sarah Leonardi told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “It is a state that seeks to limit access to knowledge and resources that don’t fit in a conservative ideological box. ... It is a state that is making it more and more difficult to educate or parent a child without constant fear of retribution.”
Supporters of the policy say it provides much-needed transparency to the materials made available to students.
A list of the books that have been banned from public schools in the following districts can be viewed in the link below:
The state Department of Education lists all the instructional material for media specialists on this webpage.