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Anna Karamazina

26.11.2022 15:00

Why Some Schools in Florida Are Pulling Books from Their Libraries

Children attended a celebration for Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida at Greenland Pines Elementary in late January. There were food trucks and an escape room. Entrepreneur Brian Covey, who is in his late 30s, arrived to pick up his son, who is in fifth grade, and daughter, who is in second grade. His kids were perplexed. His daughter said, "Did you hear what happened at school today?  They removed every book from the classrooms." Covey questioned which books. "Every book," she affirmed. "Measuring Up," a coming-of-age tale about a Taiwanese immigrant to the United States, was being read by Covey's son. An ice cream party was held as a reward for students who read from a list of preselected books, which included this title. Even that book was taken, according to Covey.

When Covey entered the school classrooms to hear what his kids were talking about, he saw bookcases that had been covered in paper to conceal the books. (He attended another nearby school as well, and subsequently posted a video on Twitter demonstrating how empty its shelves were.) Covey informed that this has never been a problem before, adding that he had attended the same public school system while growing up in Duval County, which is home to Jacksonville. Yet while he was in school, he read books on the repercussions of this kind of behavior, like  "1984" and "Fahrenheit 451. He said that his kids didn't appear to understand what made a book unsuitable for school. "The only way I could get them to understand was to ask what happens if a book in the library or classroom had the F-word in it a bunch of times.  Kids would bring it to the instructor or the librarian."  There were no volumes in their collection that Covey would want to conceal from them, to his knowledge. (Communications staff for the Duval County public schools stated that certain authorized books, including those on the list Covey's son was reading from, remained accessible to kids.)

Nicole Harlow has just started to notice local social media postings concerning teachers being forced to remove or cover up their classroom libraries in Manatee County, farther south along the Gulf Coast. Three of Harlow's children attend county schools; she works as a veterinary nurse in her early forties. Her two youngest children attend charter schools, and thus far, it seems that nothing has been done to the library there. At Parrish Community High School, however, where Emma is in the tenth year, bookshelves have been covered with banners that declare, "Books Are NOT for Student Use!"

Harlow pointed to the website of the community organization known as Community Patriots Manatee. A call to action may be found on the website under the headline "Woke Buster's Wanted."

Whether you're a Tax Payer, Parent, Grandparent, or Community Member, the society that is trying to be created by this deranged wokeness is nothing more than Mental Abuse for Children which WILL ultimately lead into Physical Abuse! We may be in the process of removing books, reviewing curriculum, and making our case with the administrators and school board but this is only the tip of the iceberg. We have to STAY involved and vigilant " it warns potential Woke Busters. Harlow thinks that some of the group's members could have exerted pressure on the school to take the books out. (A request for comment through email went unanswered by the organization.)

Harlow said of the state's conservative lawmakers and advocacy organizations that they appear to be against books that represent all students. According to a 2022 pen America report, Florida has the second-highest number of book bans in the U.S., behind only Texas. She pointed out that two of the books that had been challenged or removed from high-school libraries in previous purges were "The 57 Bus," a nonfiction YA book about an agender teenager whose skirt gets set on fire by another teen, and "The Hate U Give," the well-known fictional story about the aftermath of the shooting of a young Black man by a white police officer. The books that were removed, according to Harlow, made their political goal very plain. 

Harlow let her daughter Emma comment. The girl is afraid they'll take her one history book away. Recently, their instructor has begun covering topics like slavery and Native Americans that were meant to be covered later in the year, closer to the A.P. test. She continued, It seemed as if she was hurrying it because she was afraid it would be taken away and she wanted kids to know about it. It's a little unsettling to think about, she continued.

Here's the statement from a Manatee County Schools spokesperson: "In regards to books in school media centers or classrooms, the School District of Manatee County is abiding by all applicable laws and statutes of the state of Florida, and adhering to the guidance of the Florida Department of Education." The Duval County district communications staff pointed to a statement from January 23rd that indicates that the Florida Department of Education "has trained all Florida schools districts to ‘err on the side of caution’ in determining if a book is developmentally appropriate for student use” and that Duval schools are working “to ensure compliance with all recent legislation regarding books and materials available to children through school media centers and classroom libraries."

House Bill 1467, passed last July, is the most recent piece of law in issue; it stipulates that books in Florida's public schools must be devoid of pornography and appropriate for "student needs," as evaluated by a librarian or school media expert. According to Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, those experts had been anticipating the retraining guidelines, which were just made accessible in January. The system's chief academic officer provided fresh direction in a video published in late January on a YouTube channel with public school leaders in Duval County. Books that are not on the district-approved list or that have not been endorsed by a certified media expert must be covered, stored, or put on hold while being utilized by students, she said. The Manatee County superintendent allegedly warned a teacher via email that breaking the law might result in "a crime of the third degree."

According to Spar, public school instructors in one-third of the state's counties have been told to package or hide their books until the new legislation has been evaluated to ensure compliance. According to Ink America, two books were taken from Palm Beach County's school libraries last spring in preparation of the bill, and by the summer, Brevard County's classroom libraries were "taking a pause." Nonetheless, Spar noted that rural and conservative areas of the state have seen a significant increase in this kind of activity. He said, it's simply not going out from there as much, pointing to Florida that Manatee and Duval have larger media markets. Manatee and Duval arguably overreacted, according to Spar, when Florida's D.O.E. finally made its compliance training for media specialists available.

The majority of the instructors are shocked. We can only imagine how sad it would be for educators to have to take children's books away, and what threats would have to be made to them so they would feel they had no other option. The new regulation also seemed to be a logistical headache, with school personnel who are paid modestly bearing the brunt of it. The hours it would take for professionals to evaluate thousands of books for suitability are "like a capital investment that they're not funding," Covey said. The county's superintendent says the study needed an unbelievable lift and was a tremendous undertaking in the video for Duval education authorities.

Covey and Harlow agree that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's aspirations for the presidency are reflected in the statute. Previously, DeSantis worked to pass the "Don't Say Gay" bill, which forbids the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools until the third grade, as well as the "Stop Woke Act," which prohibits the teaching that someone "must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress" because of their race or sex. (In November, a court temporarily stopped the bill's application to colleges.) The introduction of advanced-placement classes in African American history, which the College Board had been developing for more than ten years, was recently put on hold by DeSantis' administration. He has also proposed mandating Western Civilization courses and outlawing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. After this, the College Board made changes to the curriculum, removing readings on subjects like critical race theory and Black feminism.

Independent-identifying Covey said that he would never support a politician that uses kids as pawns.  He said that his youngster was still perplexed by the reasoning for the book deletions. He suggested that books at the very least be made accessible on a parent-by-parent basis. Covey is unsure of the specifics of how access to books will be restored, as well as the authorities' timing and procedure. Would there be a comprehensive list of prohibited items or will it be school by school? When will the children be able to check out books? Duval district representatives informed that "The list of acceptable books expands daily."  At least, the way Covey's daughter has approached the issue has given him hope. He said, "She started writing a list of her thoughts, and she decided to make a book out of them". And the working title was " The One Who Stole All the Books".

Several distressing incidents have occurred recently at Parrish Community High School in Manatee, including alarms that prompted two lockdowns. Youngsters dashing to vehicles and leaping fences, said Harlow. During one of them, Emma sent mum a panicked text message from school. It was discovered that medical crises, not active shooters, had set off both alarms. We're outlawing books instead of dealing with firearms, Harlow said. "I’d be lying if I said we’re not looking for a way out of this state".


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