Florida classroom bookshelves remain empty as the Education Reform Act goes into effect

Jacksonville teacher Andrea Phillips spent literacy week packing up her class library.

Phillips, who specializes in helping students with reading problems, was told they would have to be put away until all the books could be reviewed and confirmed as complying with Florida’s education laws.

“Without a diverse selection of books to represent my students, I can’t get them interested in books,” she said.

Under Florida’s House Bill, 1,467 textbooks must be reviewed by a county clerk holding a valid Educational Media Specialist certificate to ensure they are free of pornography or specific racial teachings. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill as part of its Year of the Parents initiative, which aims to give parents the right to make decisions about their children and their education.

The law, passed in July 2022, states that beginning January 1, 2023, school librarians, media specialists, and other staff involved in selecting school district library materials must complete the online training program developed by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) prior to vetting and selecting age-appropriate materials and library resources, said a memo to school boards.

“In Florida, our parents have every right to be involved in their children’s education. We will not allow politicians to deny parents the right to know what is being taught in our schools. I’m proud to be signing this law, which ensures transparency in the curriculum,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a press release on his website.

All training must be completed by July 1, 2023, the memo said.

Duval County Public Schools, which includes Jacksonville, said they would conduct a formal review of all books in classrooms and school libraries.

But teachers like Phillips believe the new law will further alienate parents from teachers and create confusion in the classroom.

If educators decide to break the law, they could be charged with a third-degree felony, since HB 1467 stacks on top of a previous statute, Florida Statute 847.012, making it a third-degree felony, “knowingly against a minor to distribute”. School property” means any material that is sexually explicit.

In addition, kindergarten through third grade textbooks must be free of sexual orientation and gender identity instruction.

“They came for teachers via masks, they came for teachers via books, teachers were called groomers,” she said.

It’s not clear when Phillips will be able to bring her books back into the classroom. Schools can have thousands of books and often there is only one media specialist per school going through everything, which can delay the process.

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