SARASOTA, Fla — As students across Tampa Bay start a brand new school year, teachers in one district say they’re being told they can no longer purchase or accept donated books for their classrooms.
So what’s going on here? A VERIFY viewer asked us to look into this.
Are Sarasota teachers being told they can no longer purchase books for their classes, have books donated and schools can no longer hold book fairs?
Yes, according to guidance sent to school principals, the Sarasota County School District has frozen all donations and purchases of books for school libraries and classrooms until at least the beginning of 2023. Book fairs, in some cases, are also on hold.
WHAT WE FOUND
In guidance issued to school principals and shared with teachers, the Sarasota County School District says this change is a direct result of a new state law (HB 1467) which requires all reading materials available to students to be selected by a school district employee with a valid education media specialist certificate.
Currently, the district does not have certified media specialists working in its schools, spokesperson Kelsey Whealy told VERIFY but intends to hire at least three district-wide.
The law applies to all books – purchased, donated, or otherwise made available – in school libraries and classrooms.
The new law, which also sets term limits for school board members, was passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year. It took effect July 1.
The district-wide freeze is in effect until at least the start of 2023, Whealy told VERIFY, to allow time for the Florida Department of Education to provide further guidance and the district’s curriculum team time to interpret the guidance.
Scholastic book orders will still be allowed if parents can review the form beforehand and the books aren’t purchased for use in the classroom or school library, according to Whealy.
Book fairs already scheduled can still go on, she said, but schools that have not yet scheduled them must wait until spring to do so now.
Contrary to some social media posts, books can still be read aloud in classes.
"No one has been told that they cannot conduct read-alouds with students," reads a statement provided by the district. The statement says teachers are being advised to communicate with administration and parents about what's being read.
Representatives for both Hillsborough County Public Schools and Pinellas County Schools told VERIFY they have certified media specialists in every school.