According to a story by the News Service of Florida the Florida Board of Education approved a new rule that will require school districts to provide the state with a list of all books that have been challenged and will lead to Florida education officials publishing “an annual list of books and instructional materials that have drawn public objections.”
The rule will carry out part of a controversial 2022 law (HB 1467) that increased scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials, amid a broader push by state officials to weed out inappropriate content. Last year’s law, in part, was designed to give parents and the public increased access to the process of selecting and removing books and other materials.
“A lot of these books that have been removed by districts have been for pornographic or graphic materials that don’t belong in schools, but it is done at a local level,” state Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., said during Wednesday’s meeting.
Districts will now be required to report the reason for the challenge including whether the materials purportedly contain pornographic content.
Districts also would have to report the “rationale for removing, discontinuing, or limiting access to the material or not taking any of these actions.”
The state Department of Education ultimately will compile a list of all books that are removed or discontinued as a result of objections and, as a requirement of the law, “disseminate the list to school districts for consideration in their selection procedures.”
In other words, districts would be pressured to remove books that have been challenged in different counties.
But the larger push to ramp up scrutiny of school-library books and other materials has drawn strong objections from groups that advocate for First Amendment rights.
A federal lawsuit filed last week included plaintiffs such as the free-speech organization PEN America. The challenge alleged that Escambia County’s school district violated the First Amendment by removing or restricting access to more than 150 library books.
“Ensuring that students have access to books on a wide range of topics and expressing a diversity of viewpoints supports a core function of public education, preparing students to be thoughtful and engaged citizens,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday.
Meanwhile, new requirements related to the process of restricting or removing books soon will be coming online in Florida.
A new law (HB 1069) signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last week includes a requirement that any books objected to on the bases that they contain pornographic material or describe “sexual conduct” be removed within five days of an objection and remain unavailable to students until the objection is resolved.
The measure is slated to take effect in July.
The incoming requirements came up during a brief discussion between State Board member Grazie P. Christie and Paul Burns, a chancellor with the state education department.
“When a person, when a parent or member of the district objects to a work, how soon does the school district have to respond? I mean, I can imagine a scenario where you find an objectionable book and you know that your third grader has access to it, and you’re worried about every day that goes by that your third grader is walking by that pornographic book, for instance,” Christie said.
Burns noted that each district is responsible for setting their own policies about objectionable materials.
“I will say that, I’m kind of foreshadowing here, that you might see us coming back to this board. Because there was some legislation … that’s going to continue to help with this work,” Burns replied in part.