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Florida classroom bookshelves left empty as education reform law goes into effect

A look at Florida's Education Reform Law
The pushback against Florida's Education Reform Law 03:26

Jacksonville teacher Andrea Phillips spent Literacy Week packing up her classroom library. 

Phillips, who specializes in helping students who have trouble reading, was told that until all books could be vetted and verified to be in compliance with Florida's education laws, they would need to be put away.  

"Without a diverse variety of books that represent my students, I can't get them interested in books," she said. 

Under Florida's House Bill, 1467 schoolbooks must be reviewed by a district employee holding a valid educational media specialist certificate to ensure they're free of pornography or certain race-based teachings. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill as part of his Year of the Parent initiative that aims to give parents the right to make decisions regarding their children and their education. 

The law, which was passed in July 2022,  stated that beginning January 1, 2023, school librarians, media specialists, and other personnel involved in the selection of school district library materials must complete the online training program developed by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) prior to reviewing and selecting age-appropriate materials and library resources, said a memo to school superintendents.

"In Florida, our parents have every right to be involved in their child's education. We are not going to let politicians deny parents the right to know what is being taught in our schools. I'm proud to sign this legislation that ensures curriculum transparency," said Governor Ron DeSantis, in a press release statement on his website.

All training must be finished by July 1, 2023, the memo states.

Duval County Public Schools, which includes Jacksonville, said it would conduct a formal review of all books in classrooms and school libraries. 

But, teachers like Phillips, believe the new law further alienates parents from teachers and created confusion in the classroom. 

If educators chose to violate the bill, they could be charged with a third-degree felony, because HB 1467 stacks on top of a previous law, Florida Statute 847.012, which makes it a third-degree felony to "knowingly distribute to a minor on school property" any material that is sexually explicit.

Additionally, kindergarten to third-grade classroom books must be free of instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.  

"They've come for teachers over masks, they've come for teachers over books, teachers have been called groomers," she said. 

It is not clear when Phillips will be able to bring her books back into the classroom. Schools can have thousands of books and often it's just one media specialist per school sorting through it all, which could delay the process.  

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