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Florida Teachers Are Being Told to Remove All Books in Classroom Libraries to Avoid Lawsuits

Don't Say Books.

A group of young children sit on the floor of a library reading books.

Teachers in Manatee County, Florida have reportedly been ordered to pack up their classroom libraries immediately or potentially face a third-degree felony charge.

The decision, handed down by the Manatee County school district last week, is a response to HB 1467, The Parental Rights In Education Act, better known as the “don’t say gay bill“, which was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis back in March. Dressed up as a bill designed to keep parents informed of what their children are learning about in class HB 1467 actually places serious restrictions on what kind of books, and basic information, children are able to access in school. Pushed by right-wing groups who frame an extreme, developmentally inappropriate, and often outright harmful level of parental control over access to information as a matter of child safety, the bill places extreme limits on materials and instruction related to issues of racial justice and LGBT+ people, as well as allowing parents to challenge any aspect of the curriculum they don’t like.

A result of this that we’re now seeing in Manatee County—and which other districts are likely to follow suit on—is the removal of teacher-curated classroom libraries, as teachers are no longer considered suitable personnel to select the contents. In order to maintain a classroom library, teachers are now required to run every single book by a trained “media specialist,” usually a librarian, of which most schools only have one, and nearly 40% of U.S. schools (and 90% of charter schools) do not have a full-time librarian on staff at all.

Given the amount of extra work involved in vetting and approving individual teachers’ classroom libraries, the process is likely to take months, with a significant number of books being lost along the way as they’re found unfit according to these new guidelines.

For any teacher that does not comply, if a book in their classroom library is found to be in breach— something that’s all too easy given the room for subjective interpretation of the prohibited topics—class three felony charges are on the line. Even so, some teachers have refused to put their libraries away, preferring to take the risk than deprive the students in their care. Others have gone so far as to ban students from bringing in their own books from home, fearing for their teaching licenses and the possibility of criminal charges if another parent finds out and objects to the books their children’s classmates are reading.

As much as people in allegedly more progressive states love making fun of Florida and other similarly red states, this is a nationwide problem. Banned books and so-called “soft censorship”, where schools and libraries avoid valuable, educational titles through fear of right-wing pushback, are growing problems across the country. Educational “gag orders”, which target colleges as well as K-12 classrooms and attempt to prohibit discussion on everything from the history of racial violence in America to the existence of LGBT+ people, are also rapidly propagating with 54 restrictions introduced across 24 states in 2021 alone.

A lot of these bills and censorship campaigns have passed under the radar with people distracted by more immediate concerns like COVID, surviving the economic crash, and the laws threatening trans healthcare and safety in various states. However, right-wing groups have taken advantage of this, training activists to bombard school board meetings to try and force a curriculum that’s in line with right-wing ideology, and cut off young people’s access to ideas and information that don’t uphold those ideals. Using phrases designed to scare people like, “race-based Marxism,” “racial engineering,” and “Neo-racist theories have no place in public education,”—all directly spawning from Christopher Rufo, the architect of the “critical race theory” panic, and his guide book on the topic—these activists stoke up fear of left-wing or LGBTQ+ “indoctrination” in schools to try to turn them into vehicles for right-wing indoctrination instead. And in places like Florida, they’re well on the way to succeeding.

For a final touch of bitter irony, it’s Literacy Week in Florida right now. Cutting off the Manatee County students, 50% of whom are already reading below grade level, from their primary source of books right at the beginning of Literacy Week seems a little too on the nose to be an accident, but then again, maybe they are just so averse to both literacy and critical thinking that it didn’t occur to them. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for the future of education, in Manatee County and nationwide.

(featured image: StockPlanets)

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