ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Some teachers in Manatee County are covering up books in their classrooms or even removing them altogether, several posts on social media show, saying it's to comply with a new state law.
The law requires all library books available to students to be approved by a certified media specialist. Under new training guidelines recently approved by the State Board of Education, media specialists are advised to avoid materials with “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.”
"Farwell, classroom library," one teacher wrote in a post on Facebook, saying they were forced to pack up the library.
Manatee County Schools Chief of Staff Kevin Chapman told 10 Tampa Bay teachers were not directly told to shut down their classroom libraries. Many are opting to, anyway. He provided the memo issued to staff last week about compliance with the new law HB 1467, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last March.
The memo outlines the guidelines for school and classroom libraries and the three criteria every book must now meet:
- Free of pornography and material prohibited under S. 847.012, F.S.
- Suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.
- Appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used and made available.
Books will have to be cross-referenced with a list of material already approved. If it isn't already on the list, it will then have to go through an approval process.
Chapman said he suspects most books on teachers' shelves already appear on the approved list.
Each school in Manatee County has at least one certified media center specialist to vet books. The memo goes on to say the district is also looking for volunteers to help teachers go through libraries to determine what's already approved and what needs approval.
Supporters say the law is designed to give parents more oversight of what their children are learning in school. Parents will now be able to search a database of every available book on their school district's website.
Critics have argued it amounts to censorship and assumes teachers cannot be trusted to choose the appropriate material for their students.
In Pinellas County, a district spokesperson said a memo like Manatee's hadn't been issued to teachers but that the district is developing a process to review classroom libraries.
"Staff needs to be trained," district spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said. "Once trained, the certified media specialists at each school will begin to review and inventory the books over the next few weeks and months."
Similarly in Hillsborough County Public Schools, the district is working to develop a review process for each classroom.
"Given the size of our school district, the state is aware that we are working through this school year to become compliant," district spokesperson Tanya Arja said. "We communicated with the state on this issue prior to July, and we will continue to work through processes to ensure we are compliant by next school year."
Ultimately a list of every available book will be posted in a database on the schools' websites.
The state hasn’t given districts a deadline by which all books need to be vetted.