Duval County, FL teachers say district officials instructed them to “cover or store” classroom libraries.
Students in the district arrived at schools to find bookshelves wrapped up or books gone, the same books that have been used to supplement their students’ reading for years.
WJCT News obtained a video that seems to be an internal training video sent by district chief academic officer, Paula Renfro, telling teachers to pull the books from their classrooms temporarily. The outlet later confirmed from Duval Schools that the video was sent to principals to share with staff members.
“Books not on the district-approved list or not approved by certificated media specialists need to be covered or stored and paused for student use,” Renfro says in the video, adding that the district is trying to comply with new Florida laws restricting schoolbooks.
House Bill 1467 passed in July and mandates that schools’ books be age-appropriate, free from pornography, and “suited to student needs.” A qualified school media specialist must approve books.
“They can be charged with a third-degree felony,” said Patricia Barber, the president of the county’s teachers union. “They’ve criminalized providing a book, when there really is just a vague definition of what books are not appropriate.”
The Education Department published the training video in January, which caused school librarians across Florida to be unable to order books for more than a year.
On Monday, the district announced the start of a formal review of classroom libraries in response to the new state law that now makes it easier for parents to contest books.
The law also includes guidelines for elementary school libraries, which require them to publish a searchable list of all books “maintained in the school library or required as part of a school or grade-level reading list.”
The district also says because of the new state laws, books that depict pornography, instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, or books that say an individual is “inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” will be prohibited.
“We’re looking at giving teachers duty-free time to assist in reviews and reemploying retired media specialists, who still have an active certificate to increase our capacity to conduct reviews,” Renfro added in the video.