Florida teachers gutting their libraries as state government declares war on public education

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2023/03/ron-desantis-florida-teachers/ [click thru for the full text of the article]

“Closed by Order of the Governor”: Teachers in the Crossfire of Florida’s War on Public Education

The many casualties in Ron DeSantis’ crusade against “woke indoctrination.” 


Marvin Dunn, 82, is a professor emeritus and vocal critic of Gov. DeSantis’ moves to render “education meaningless.”Octavio Jones

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On the morning of January 23, Jean Faulk opened her inbox to find an email labeled “urgent” from her principal at Bayshore High School in Bradenton, Florida. “Based on clarifications from the state in December, teacher-created classroom libraries fall under what the state is defining as library material,” Wendell Butler Jr. wrote to his staff of 75 or so teachers. Faulk and her colleagues suddenly were expected to cross-check their books against an online catalog of district-approved titles. If a book wasn’t in the system, it would have to be inspected by a librarian. The email instructed Bayshore’s faculty to “remove or cover” classroom libraries until the materials had been reviewed.

As Faulk, a 65-year-old world history teacher and former journalist who oversees the school’s student newspaper, read the guidance, her anger, and incredulity grew. She had carefully curated her classroom library over the years, and the task of combing through several hundred volumes seemed insurmountable. So later that day she stripped her shelves of books like AmistadThe Hunger Games, and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Only dictionaries and encyclopedias remained. When she read the email, Florida was celebratingits annual Literacy Week.

As the directive trickled down from the school district to principals to teachers like Faulk, it didn’t take long for chaos to set in throughout the schools of Manatee County, located an hour south of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Photos started to surface on social media of teachers’ classroom libraries with notes from students saying, “Free the books” and “Knowledge is power.” A veteran teacher described the process as a “travesty to education, the future of our children, and our nation.”

Similar accounts surfaced across the state. Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, estimatedteachers in about one-third of Florida’s counties were advised to purge their classroom libraries. In Jacksonville, a third-grade teacher penned an op-ed describing how one of her students, an avid reader, had cried after learning he couldn’t access the classroom library. Brian Covey, a full-time substitute teacher and father of two children in that same district, filmed the bare bookshelves at the middle school where he taught. After the video went viral and Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly called it “a fake narrative,” Covey was fired; Duval County officials said Covey’s “misrepresentation of the books available to students and the disruption” it caused violated social media and cellphone policies. The claim that books were being banned and classroom libraries shut down, DeSantis later said, was “a hoax in service of trying to pollute and sexualize our children.”

Jean Faulk has been a teacher for 10 years. But Gov. DeSantis’ attacks on school libraries have her thinking of retiring. Octavio Jones

Many teachers would beg to differ. Over the past three years, Florida educators have been caught in the crossfire of the culture wars that DeSantis is waging to burnish his conservative bona fides in advance of the 2024 presidential election. The classroom library policies adopted by Duval and Manatee counties felt like “a new level,” says Faulk, set in motion by a recent “curriculum transparency” law, HB 1467, which provides for the “regular removal” of books not aligned with state standards. According to the statute, signed into law in March 2022, all books in public school libraries or assigned reading lists should be “free of pornography” and approved by certified librarians who attended an annual mandatory Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) online training. It encourages librarians to “err on the side of caution”—and no wonder. Books found to be in violation of a separate preexisting law prohibiting the distribution of pornographic materials to minors could trigger a third-degree felony charge carrying up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Teachers theoretically could also lose their certification should they violate the new law.

From the moment its provisions went into effect last summer, HB 1467 proved chilling. But six months later, when the FLDOE ruled that the legislation also applied to classroom libraries, it really threw teachers for a loop. Some concluded the risk was far too great. That’s why Faulk got rid of her books, including one written by John Adams about the 1787 Constitutional Convention that didn’t appear in the database.

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