JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville substitute teacher was fired after a Jan. 27 video he posted on social media showing rows of empty bookshelves in Mandarin Middle School’s library, an action the Duval County Public School later deemed a violation of the ESS social media and cell phone policy.
The teacher, Brian Covey, told News4JAX he posted the video to expose the public to the impact of new state-wide laws requiring the mass review of all library media and classroom materials. Several teachers across the state have been sharing similar photos and videos of bookshelves in an effort to reveal how school districts are responding to those new Florida laws.
Since y'all wanna play the "this isn't really happening" game https://t.co/bVUFOXPc6a pic.twitter.com/fUUkJgi5ls— JagsFanBrian✊🏿✊🏽✊ (@JagsFanBrian) January 27, 2023
It comes as districts have been performing a mass review of all classroom libraries and media centers after the Florida Department of Education handed down directives parallel to a controversial, new state law.
According to a spokesperson for DCPS, the teacher’s video doesn’t paint a clear picture of how the district is actually responding to the law.
On Friday, three weeks after Covey’s video was posted, the district’s communications team posted a reply, showing what appears to be the same library from another angle, and shows several book-lined shelves
“The viral video you are sharing shows less than half the story,” the district’s official social media account said. “Yes, those shelves were empty. But they were in a room full of books.”
The viral video you are sharing shows less than half the story. Yes, those shelves were empty. But they were in a room full of books. See the video below for the full story. pic.twitter.com/fy50zNS7Ab— DCPS (@DuvalSchools) February 17, 2023
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Covey said when he received the call from ESS, the company that contracts with DCPS to provide substitutes like him, that he was terminated he was surprised to hear he was being let go.
The video Covey posted on Jan. 27 has since been viewed nearly six million times. He told News4JAX he only posted it because he wanted to show others the number of books that were actually being taken out of students’ classrooms and libraries.
However, in showing only the section of shelves that were, at the time, emptied for review, the district argued it was a gross misrepresentation of the books available to students in the district, which DCPS clarified was nearly 6,000 titles as of Friday.
“We did direct teachers to temporarily reduce their classroom library collections to titles that were previously approved while waiting for media specialists to curate a more expansive list of approved titles,” the district published in a blog post late Friday afternoon. “However, at no time should a classroom have been without reading resources. At all times, students should have had access to state-approved books, already approved civics literacy books, Benchmark Advance small group books, Reader’s Theatre, and extensive online resources in our curriculum.”
When asked about the video during a news conference in Jacksonville earlier on Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, asserted that the video was dishonest.
“That video, that was a fake narrative, that was not true,” DeSantis said. “What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to act like somehow we don’t want books,” he continued. It’s unclear why the governor referred to the substitute teacher with they/them pronouns.
Covey said he thinks DeSantis’s comments played a role in his firing.
According to media reports, Covey was fired because the district found the video misrepresented what books were available to students. The district addressed the video in its own tweet on Friday.
“They basically said my services were no longer needed and that they had received multiple complaints about cell phone and social media and stuff like that,” Covey said.
DCPS and ESS sent the following statement about the situation:
In discussion between the district and ESS regarding this individual’s misrepresentation of the books available to students in the school’s library and the disruption this misrepresentation has caused, it was determined that he had violated social media and cell phone policies of his employer. Therefore, ESS determined these policy violations made it necessary to part ways with this individual.
Covey said it’s sad he was fired but what he really wants is for the school district to change what they did.
“Books were something that was so fundamental for me and to see my kids not able to take their extra time and go to the library and pick out a random, that curiosity is lost,” Covey said.
In its Friday blog post, the district admitted it directed teachers to temporarily reduce their classroom library collections to previously approved titles, and that “a small number” of administrators interpreted the district’s guidance to “err on the side of caution” more intensely than others. The district also noted that media centers had to operate under reduced hours due to the strain on the district’s limited number of media specialists.
“Since the law passed, our small team of certified media specialists (about 54 across all schools and the district) have taken on the task of reviewing more than 1.6 million titles,” the blog post said.
To read the district’s full explanation, visit teamduval.org.