With a Jan. 1 deadline looming, a state Department of Education workgroup is crafting a training that all school-library workers must use in selecting books and other materials.
But tension has simmered because some members of the panel don’t believe its recommendations go far enough.
The group, which includes parents and school media specialists, was formed to carry out part of a new law (HB 1467) passed during the 2022 legislative session.
The measure, which sparked heated partisan debates, was designed to intensify scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials. It required school boards to adopt procedures that, in part, provide for the “regular removal or discontinuance” of books from media centers based on factors such as alignment with state academic standards.
Part of the law requires that, starting in January, library media-center specialists in Florida’s public schools undergo a training program developed by the state education department. The training must be completed by all school librarians and media specialists by July. (See: “In Flagler Schools, New Regime of Book Challenges Is Laborious, Subjective and Fraught With Uncertainties.“)
The workgroup developing the training includes members of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, who have aggressively voiced their concerns about the material children encounter at school.
“There’s a misconception that we’re trying to ban books. Nobody’s trying to ban books. We’re trying to make sure they are age-appropriate for these children in our schools,” Michelle Beavers, a mother of six who serves on the group, said during a workgroup meeting Tuesday.
Beavers also is chairwoman of the Brevard County chapter of Moms For Liberty. The Brevard group, which has challenged numerous books on the shelves of the county school district’s libraries, is targeting titles for “perceived obscenity,” according to a post on the Moms for Liberty website in August.
“I have six kids. I have engineer children. I’ve been doing this for 37 years. I know what’s good for kids,” Beavers said during a Nov. 28 meeting of the workgroup.
Critics of the law have argued that the measure is intended to cater to families whose politics align with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who praised the law as a move toward “curriculum transparency,” and other state Republican leaders.
Jen Cousins, a mother of four students in Orange County schools, is a co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, a group formed to combat “book banning” in Florida. Cousins regularly monitors and tweets about the workgroup’s meetings and has been outspoken about challenges to the content of library books.
“Conservative parents currently have the ear of the Governor and our school districts. If the ‘Parents’ Rights’ movement is supposed to benefit all Floridians, we need to make sure they understand what our expectations are in their duty to honor and respect our parental rights,” a post on the Florida Freedom to Read Project’s website said.
Jennifer Pippin, who leads the Moms for Liberty Indian River County chapter, also serves on the workgroup. Pippin has submitted suggestions about what should be included in the librarian training, such as filtering books for certain keywords or phrases before they are purchased. Pippin also has proposed avoiding purchase of books that include “glorification” of violence, suicide, cannibalism, and the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
Pippin explained what would constitute glorification, in her view, during Tuesday’s meeting of the panel.
“One of these books that we have in my district, they’re having parties every weekend and these teenagers are drinking alcohol underage. And they’re (the book is) glorifying it to make it look like, yes, this is what you should be doing on the weekends. And then there’s nothing at the end of the book where they get in trouble, or somebody gets hurt, and they stop having these parties,” Pippin said.
But Kris Smith, a media specialist for Volusia County Schools who also is a member of the workgroup, took issue with Pippin’s suggestion.
“I see the problem in terms of, how are you defining glorification? Because I’m aware of some books that have some of those (topics), but I wouldn’t say that they’re glorifying them. I think the books do turn it around, and talk about how they are problematic,” Smith said.
Department of Education staff who are part of the workgroup have solicited input from its members on topics that are “outside the scope” of the library training, asking them to identify items they “would like to address with senior leadership” at the agency.
In response, Beavers proposed that school librarians should avoid facilitating students registering to vote.
“Stopping activity, such as supplying material for students to register to vote, in the library,” Beavers’ written suggestion said.
Education department staff have pushed back on some ideas floated during meetings, reminding members that some issues are not related to the task at hand.
“The true gist of why we were put here was to address CRT (critical race theory) and sexually explicit (material) in our libraries,” Beavers said during the Nov. 28 meeting.
But Amber Baumbach, director of instructional materials and library media for the Department of Education, pointed out that critical race theory — a concept that racism is embedded in American institutions — is not mentioned in the law that spurred the workgroup’s creation.
“The task that we were presented with was not solely about the sexually-explicit materials, the pornography issue. CRT is not part of that statute at all,” Baumbach replied.
Baumbach noted that the 2022 law points to existing statutes that already provide guidance on content that would be considered harmful to minors.
“As a workgroup we were tasked with doing many other things, which I believe that we have done with this group,” she said.
But Beavers has repeatedly urged the group to craft its own definitions for material that would be impermissible in books and should be removed from media centers.
Appearing frustrated Tuesday, Beavers expressed doubt that the group would come to an agreement on the issue.
“I believe we’re at an impasse. I don’t believe that these librarians are going to in any way agree to any of this. So I think it’s going to be a shorter meeting than we think. Because … we’re not going to agree on that,” she said.
–Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida
My mother is pictured in my senior year high school yearbook , in the library registering students to vote. She was President of the League of Women Voters.
I suppose that is too radical for today’s Florida high schools?
The dude says
Anything Moms for Lunacy touch becomes a shit show, it’s because they’re MAGA, it’s how they roll.
Exactly….far from being an innocent group of local “Moms” who just come together, they are in reality a well-funded product of big-money donors, Republican office-holders and professional political communicators.
This article from tampabay.com gives a fuller picture of this supposed “grass-roots” effort.
Jane E K says
Books should not be banned!! Period
Sheila Zinkerman says
M. Beavers, Book Banner
What you don’t have Ms. Beavers, is the right to tell other parents what their child can read. Furthermore, your argument that “There’s a misconception that we’re trying to ban books” doesn’t hold up. There is a consensus with the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, and PEN America Best Practices that if books are removed out of circulation without access to a reader for any reason, including challenges awaiting reconsideration, it is considered a ban.
Trust and support educated media specialists, librarians, and public school teachers with book selections for your child, not “I Beavers”.
There is no reason at all why any person or group should have the power to ban books that a person might wish to read. And certainly the state has NO BUSINESS being involved in recommending or enforcing book bans, unless the state wants to be likened to Nazi Germany’s infamous images of the SS stormtroopers standing watch over bonfires of burning books that they demanded citizens participate in burning during WWII. Knowledge is power, and it not only allows people to learn about good things and what to do, but also is an important aspect for learning about or recalling the bad things that happened in the past and what they should not be getting involved in. So banning books is not only anti-democratic and anti-freedom, it restricts those interested in even the wacky, fringe political idealistic groups who are trying to increase their membership. I’m not saying I support that in any way, but everyone should be free to at least broaden their knowledge about things that could potentially hurt them, hurt society and civilization as a whole. And the stupidest thing about the book banning cult of today is that they are focused on harmless cultural issues and personal freedoms instead of really serious matters that have consequences for all of us. The “moms for liberty” and other such groups involved in all of this book banning nonsense are only showing that the kids in schools who are furious about being told which books they can and cannot read are a lot smarter than the so-called adults who are part of this cultish movement.
Florida Voter says
This makes me want to re-read Fahrenheit 451.
Seriously, Here is a good list of litmus test for banned books:
1) Students should be literate when they graduate. Books that can be read should stay in the library
2) Decrypting ciphers and understanding other languages should be part of a civic-minded education. Books with symbols, words, etc. that cannot be read should stay in the library.
3) Students need creative expression and exposure to various artwork. Books with pictures should stay in the library.
4) Emptiness is also a form of expression. Books with no pictures should stay in the library.
There are some books that I have no interest in reading and some books that I just won’t read due to the book’s “content,” but anyone who wants to ban content should start by reading “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984,” then think about what happens when a society starts banning “content.”
TL;DR books with words and books without words should stay. Books with pictures and books without pictures should stay.
TL;DR of TL;DR “Thought police” are bad.
The comments here by Robin, Dude, Jane, Sheila and Skibum are right on!
Also, what exactly is “age appropriate” in this instance? Is each child at the same mental level? Are we corrupting the slower child while holding back the advanced child?
These women are nothing more than big fish in a little bowl, and DeSantis loves losing freedoms in his “free Florida.”
I am reminded of the Deutsche Studentenschaft, DSt, who threw book-burning parties in Nazi Germany.
There are more and more emerging parallels with Naziism in today’s America.
Essentially, we’re circling the drain… The whole world is watching our shenanigans.
This puts a patina of s*** on our collective reputation as Americans.
Shame on these narrow-minded book-banning numbskulls.
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” —Winston Churchill.
Deborah Coffey says
What a ridiculous waste of time and money…all to appease the Christian Nationalists…who are turning out to be the worst haters this country has seen in a very long time. I mean, Donald Trump, dinner host to Nazis, would certainly never let his child read anything like these “terrible” banned books! LOL.
Where are the fact checkers where you need them?
Thomas Kaspar says
Ron DeSantis is leading the fight against dangerous “woke ideology”…