A Florida teacher has been fired after a video he shot of empty school library shelves went viral amid outrage over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ alleged efforts to ban books.
Brian Covey, a parent and substitute teacher at Mandarin Middle School, directed the video to show the fallout from Florida’s new “curricular transparency law.” Since then it has garnered more than 13 million views.
Mr. Covey’s firing comes days after Mr. DeSantis directly condemned the video as “fake narrative” when he denied books were removed from school shelves, despite evidence from teachers and librarians revealing it.
On Tuesday, the governor was asked by a Duval County reporter if the district had ordered schools to remove all books from the shelves so they could undergo a “review process” to ensure they were complying with the law, the most recent Year passed in Florida.
“Actually, this video was fake narrative,” the governor said in reference to Mr. Covey’s video.
“It’s trying to create a narrative, as if that… They hadn’t even gotten the books out to begin with. So you don’t need all that stuff. What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to kind of pretend, you know, we don’t want books,” the governor said at a news conference.
Duval County Public Schools addressed Mr Covey’s termination in a statement to First Coast News on Wednesday. It confirmed that ESS, the organization that contracts with the district to hire substitute teachers, had “disconnected” with Mr Covey.
“In the discussion between the District and ESS regarding the misrepresentation of the books available to students in the school library and the disruption that misrepresentation has caused, it was found that he violated his employer’s social media policies and mobile phones. Therefore, ESS determined that these policy violations made it necessary to separate from this individual,” the statement said.
The Independent previously reported that school teachers and librarians in Duval County, where Mr. DeSantis was visiting to speak on justice reform, were ordered by the school district to remove non-curriculum books from their shelves.
Many of them took to social media to share pictures of empty bookshelves.
The review was ordered by the district in response to a “curricular transparency” law passed by Mr. DeSantis last year. This law obliges schools to ensure that their book selections are “free of pornography and prohibited materials that are harmful to minors, meet student needs, and are appropriate for grade level and age group.”
The law has caused confusion in some schools, and the task of interpreting the guidelines has been left to “media specialists” or librarians.
To ensure compliance with the new rules, the Duval County School District sent a memo to teachers last month, instructing them to “hold books temporarily until they are reviewed.” The memo also told teachers that “plays and poetry” performed in class “also need to be adapted to the language of state laws.”
The goal of the law, according to Mr. DeSantis Office, aims to “ensure that parents know what their children are being offered in the classroom”. School districts are now rushing to meet these guidelines.
But teachers and free speech advocacy groups, like PEN America, have said the “vague laws, harsh penalties and confusing policies” have left schools operating under a “cloud of fear” that is affecting students’ ability to learn.
A librarian tells The Independent that the library at the school where she worked was closed to students during the review.
“The books are out on tables, they’re wrapped up and thrown away,” said Keri Clark. “It’s just a really sad sight. A lot of kids are constantly looking through the window and it’s just horrible that I can’t let them in and get books.”
Mr. DeSantis said at his Tuesday news briefing that the law aims to prevent pornography from reaching children, but among the titles removed and banned in Duval County in the course of the review is that of Toni Morrison The bluest eye, kite runner by Khaled Hosseini, The stranger by Albert Camus, Rebellious rhymes by Roald Dahl and a skateboard magazine called thrashers.
The reasons for these bans are set out in a document viewed by the independent, are short and vague. This includes descriptions such as “Racial Profile” (sic), “Lewd/Offensive”, and “Inapp. behavior”.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Mr. DeSantis said it was not the state’s intention to ban books.
“If there’s anything that any of these schools, superintendents, say is forbidden, produce it and our Department of Education will definitely look at it and I can guarantee you that, unless 99 percent of the people realize that it’s wrong, chances are it’s not a problem,” he said.
The Florida Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.
Bryan Griffin, Mr. DeSantis’ press secretary, said in a opinion on Tuesday that the removal of books from school shelves was not ordered by the state.
“There was no government order to empty libraries or cover up classroom books. However, we take a stand against pornography and sexual material in the classroom,” he said in the statement.
In a separate response to a request for comment from the independent, He added that “the intention is not to empty libraries, but to ensure that pornography is not provided in classrooms.”
Last month, teacher Andrea Phillips shared The Independent She had removed all of the books from the shelves in her classroom in response to Duval County’s vetting process.
“The autonomy that was stolen from me. I’m a certified teacher, I’ve been doing this for more than a decade. I did training after training. I have been working with children for years. I know what I’m doing,” she said.