Gov. DeSantis says DCPS ‘tried to create friction’ by removing books from libraries to check compliance

Gov. DeSantis says DCPS ‘tried to create friction’ by removing books from libraries to check compliance
Gov. DeSantis says DCPS ‘tried to create friction’ by removing books from libraries to check compliance

TAMPA – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday took aim at Duval County Public Schools as well as national and local media, saying some have created a “false narrative” surrounding the review or removal of controversial books from schools.

During a press conference in Tampa, DeSantis showed a five-minute video calling out “myths” he said were being reported. One of the myths, he argued, is that Florida schools have been relegated to “empty libraries” and “cover classroom books.”

Earlier this year, Duval County said it conducted a mass review of all classroom libraries and media centers districtwide after the Florida Department of Education issued directives in parallel with a new state law.

“The Florida Department of Education has trained all Florida school districts to ‘err on the side of caution’ when determining whether a book is developmentally appropriate for student use,” the district said in a blog post about the decision.

DeSantis said Wednesday that by reviewing a large number of books and leaving portions of some district library shelves empty, the district aimed to “intentionally try to create friction and try to create problems and then act as if something was wrong in the state of Florida.” “

According to a blog post from DCPS, the response to the state mandate varied from school to school.

“We had a small number of principals who interpreted instructions and guidance more intensely, out of an abundance of caution,” the blog post said. “We have provided additional guidance to these leaders and they have adapted their message to teachers in the right way. In their defense, the state training also emphasized the responsibility of the school principal with regard to the books and materials made available to the students.”

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One of the books pulled for review in Duval County to ensure it complied with the new law, as reported by NBC News, was a book about the late Afro-Puerto Rican MLB legend Roberto Clemente. The book mentioned racism that Clemente experienced during his time in the league.

According to the report, “Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates” by Jonah Winter and Raúl Colón was among the more than 1 million titles that have been “covered or stored and paused for student use” at the Duval County Public Schools District, according to Chief Academic Officer Paula Renfro.

The district eventually said the book about Clemente was returned to school shelves.

A DCPS spokesman said Wednesday that more than 10,000 classroom library books have been reviewed and approved, and most media center books have been approved for student use.

A Jacksonville substitute teacher was fired last month after a Jan. 27 video he posted on social media showing rows of empty bookshelves in Mandarin Middle School’s library. According to a DCPS spokesperson, the teacher’s video did not paint a clear picture of how the district is actually responding to the law.

“The viral video you are sharing tells less than half the story,” the district’s official social media account said. “Yes, those shelves were empty. But they were in a room full of books.”

News4JAX reached out to DCPS to ask about DeSantis’ comments, and the spokesperson said they needed to hear what the governor said in context before responding.

Florida law says all books, especially in elementary school libraries, must be reviewed by a certified media specialist who has undergone state training in the new policy. The statute requires media centers to be free of the following materials:

  • Pornography – defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in images or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.”;

  • Teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades kindergarten through three;

  • Discrimination in such a way that “an individual, by virtue of his race, colour, sex or national origin, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously”.

The state said school districts are required to report the number of books removed from schools based on legislation passed in 2022. Of the 23 districts that reported removing materials, the most removed were 19 in Duval and St. Johns counties.

RELATED: St. Johns County removes 23 books from library shelves after review

According to a press release sent out by the governor’s office Wednesday, of the 175 books removed statewide, 164 (94%) were removed from media centers, and 153 (87%) were identified as pornographic, violent or inappropriate for their grade level.

On Wednesday, DeSantis cited examples of books that were removed, including “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel found in Orange, St. Lucie and Hillsborough county schools that depicts depictions of oral sex.

But as noted by DeSantis on Wednesday, Florida residents can submit objections to any book in media centers to request a review. Some of the books protested by parents and other community members in Florida, including recently in St. Johns County, involve issues that deal with black or LGBTQ characters.

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