TAMPA, Fla. — Florida's governor on Wednesday doubled down on his administration's efforts to keep what he called "garbage" books out of schools and away from children.
Speaking in Tampa, Gov. Ron DeSantis fired back at what he said is a "Book Ban Hoax" in the public, specifically referencing a video from a Duval County school library earlier this year that showed rows upon rows of empty shelves.
The video was shot by substitute teacher Brian Covey, who was later fired for violating Duval County Public Schools' social media and cellphone policy.
The district responded to the video on Twitter on Feb. 17, saying Covey's viral video was "less than half the story."
"Yes, those shelves were empty. But they were in a room full of books," the district posted.
The viral video you are sharing shows less than half the story. Yes, those shelves were empty. But they were in a room full of books. See the video below for the full story. pic.twitter.com/fy50zNS7Ab— DCPS (@DuvalSchools) February 17, 2023
Under a new state law passed last year, parents, guardians and county residents may object to reading materials in school classrooms or libraries if they contain pornographic material or content "not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used."
In Tampa on Wednesday, DeSantis' team showed a five-minute video containing examples of questionable books found in Florida schools, including some that contained cartoon images of private body parts, masturbation and oral sex.
One book that DeSantis said was flagged in St. Lucie Public Schools was "Gender Queer," a graphic novel memoir written by Maia Kobabe.
"We need to make sure that our education system is bringing us together," DeSantis said. "When you start putting that garbage that you saw in there, that is wrong. It's also very, very divisive for the community."
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT: Florida's governor speaks about school books
Under the law, when a member of the public objects to or challenges a certain book, a school review committee will look at the material and determine if it needs to be removed.
In the School District of Palm Beach County, for example, "objections filed by a parent or emancipated student shall be heard in the school in which that student is registered."
According to district policy, a School Materials Review Committee is compromised of:
- The school's principal or his or her designee of the school
- Two teachers in the appropriate subject area/grade
- One teacher from another subject area/grade
- A library media specialist
- A guidance counselor
- One student from the appropriate grade level or a student who is accomplished in the specific subject area (middle and senior high school only)
- One layperson from the school's Parent-Teacher Association or the School Advisory Council
- A representative designated by the regional superintendent
- A representative from the district department representing instructional materials and/or library media services
After reviewing the challenged material, the committee will make a recommendation to the school's principal over whether the book should remain in a classroom or library, be removed completely, or be limited in terms of its educational use.
The principal will then make a final decision about the book, according to district policy.
"Parents, when they're sending their kids to school, they should not have to worry about this garbage being in the schools," DeSantis said Wednesday. "They should just know that you're gonna get a good education."
According to the governor, 23 Florida school districts have had "violations" over their reading materials.
Eighty-seven percent of books identified as being problematic were either pornographic, violent or inappropriate for a particular grade level, DeSantis added.