DeSantis directs lawmakers to refine book challenge process

by | Feb 15, 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans on Thursday to tighten regulations on challenging school books, aiming to curb “politically motivated objections” and implement fines for baseless challenges

Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the Florida Legislature Thursday to further regulate the process by which books can be challenged in the state’s schools. The announcement, made during a press conference, seeks to refine existing procedures to ensure that challenges to school library books are appropriately filed.

Accompanied by Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, DeSantis criticized what he perceives as “politically motivated objections” to educational content. The governor highlighted a video presentation of materials he deemed unfit for school environments as a justification for the state’s intervention.

DeSantis’s proposal included punitive measures for what he considers frivolous challenges — including those made against texts like the Bible and the dictionary — to school literature, such as fining individuals who make baseless claims. He additionally suggested limiting the ability to challenge books to parents or guardians of students in the schools affected.

“We just want to make sure that we’re not trying to incentivize frivolous objections or any type of games being played,” said DeSantis. “That’s an agenda and that’s not what we should have in schools.”

The call to action comes weeks after several Florida school districts drew national attention over abundant book challenges. In Escambia County, more than 1,600 books were temporarily removed from school libraries for review under state laws aimed at preventing the exposure of students to materials containing “sexual conduct.” The action culminated in widespread criticism and a federal lawsuit from PEN America, Penguin Random House, and others, claiming it violates free speech rights.

The state, however, refutes responsibility over the pulled books, stating that each school district is delegated to individually uphold state law in their libraries.

“The Department [of Education] does not ban books,” the Executive Office of the Governor said in a post-press conference release. “Each school district is responsible for ensuring all the materials in their schools adhere to state education standards.”

Legislation supported and signed by DeSantis in recent years has enabled parents to request reviews of books in classroom across the state, though administrators and schools staff members have expressed confusion regarding how the laws are enforced. Consequentially, some school districts have preemptively removed books en mass and unintentionally stoking the flames of national media attention. According to NBC News, school districts in 21 counties removed books during the 2022-23 school year.


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