If removing posters of Black historical figures from a teacher’s classroom was still somewhat of a (barely) subtle censorship move, the most recent development in Florida’s anti-intellectualism campaign is as obvious as it gets. Teachers in Florida’s Manatee and Duval counties have reportedly been scrambling to empty their classroom libraries of all of their contents. The reason? If they don’t, they could possibly be charged with a felony.
Teachers in the Manatee County school district received a directive in January instructing them to “remove or cover all classroom libraries until all materials can be reviewed,” Vice’s Motherboard reports. The directive is allegedly part of the district’s efforts to comply with HB1467, which Gov. Ron Desantis (R) signed into law in March, and then went into effect in July. Under the law, all school books must be selected by school district employees that hold a particular “educational media certificate.”
Since the directive was sent out, Manatee teachers have rushed to pack their libraries up in fear of the consequences of what would happen if they don’t. Online, teachers and parents have been sharing pictures and videos of the policy’s aftermath—which feature rows and rows of empty and/or covered bookshelves—expressing their own heartbreak and disappointment.
An anonymous Facebook post by a Manatee teacher posted to Judd Legum’s Substack, Popular Information, reads:
As an educator, I have spent the past 18 years of my life dedicated to providing students with quality literature. Helping them connect with books and develop of love of lifelong learning. Receiving notice today that classroom libraries are to be dismantled is a travesty to education, the future of our children and our nation.
As per the Florida Department of Education training document, targeted books are those that “predominantly appeal to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest,” are “patently offensive” and “without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.” But between DeSantis and the Florida State Board of Education quietly packing its seats with MAGA moms, the required “educational media certificate” seems to be less a measure of objectivity, and more a tool used to ban books that challenge officials’ racist and anti-LBGTQ+ views. According to the Washington Post, teachers who “knowingly or unknowingly” violate these rules can be charged with a third-degree felony ($5,000 fine and up to five years in jail) for exposing students to material that the Florida Department of Education deems “harmful to minors.”
While HB1467’s restrictions originally only pertained to schools’ libraries, “fresh guidance” from the Florida Department of Education issued in mid-January clarified that “a law restricting the books a district may possess applies not only to schoolwide libraries but to teachers’ classroom collections, too.”
Even teachers who didn’t expect to have their class content challenged were forced to clean out their collections: “I got an email from an art teacher who said they’re making [the art teacher] get rid of [their] art books,” Chris Guerrieri, a Duval County public school teacher who runs an educational blog, told Motherboard. “They can’t even have their books in the classroom. Like they can’t just like, cover them up and put them to the side.”
Of course, the most devastated by the forced classroom makeover are the students being greeted by empty bookshelves. Florida Association for Media in Education board member Marie Masferrer—who was also a former librarian in the Manatee County system—told the Post that upon having their books taken away, students “began crying and writing letters to the principal, saying, ‘Please don’t take my books, please don’t do this.’”
While things have reached a head in Florida, DeSantis Land isn’t the only state to put books under serious fire. Last year, Texas banned over 800 books across 22 school districts, many of which were written by or included Black and LGBTQ+ people. Earlier this week, in Pennsylvania, a teacher was told to remove his Elie Weisel poster because it apparently violated a new school policy banning educators from “activist activities.”
The bleakness of the situation is surely one for the history books—I just won’t hold my breath over whether or not future generations of kids will be able to read about it.