Book donations and purchases have been halted in at least one Florida school district for the remainder of 2022 in the wake of a new state law that requires books to be pre-approved by state-certified media specialists, who aren’t currently available.
The Sarasota Public School District, which enrolls nearly 45,000 students across 62 schools south of Tampa, instructed all principals last week to bar new books from school media centers and classroom libraries until at least January of next year, a district spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost.
The decision was based on H.B. 1467, which went into effect on July 1 after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the legislation in March.
The law requires a certified media specialist to inspect all public school material to ensure its appropriateness for children based on their age level and whether the material can be considered potentially harmful. It also requires elementary schools to publish online a list of the books and reading material they make available to students. Books can then be removed from schools if a parent or county resident petitions for their removal.
DeSantis, who also recently banned discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms in Florida, has said this law will move toward “curriculum transparency” and help prevent “indoctrination through the school system.”
The law’s opponents have argued that it will allow the state’s most conservative communities to censor school libraries and public education.
Florida’s Department of Education has said it will offer training for school staff to become certified in approving books starting no later than Jan. 1. Sarasota’s schools will therefore pause all new acquisitions until then, district spokesperson Kelsey Whealy said in an email.
“Freezing purchases and donations of all books used in school media centers and classroom libraries allows time for hiring and working through existing materials as well as time for the FDOE to provide rules and the district’s curriculum team to provide interpretation and additional guidance on the legislation,” Whealy said.
Any previously scheduled school book fairs will be allowed to take place this fall, “pending further guidance, and the possibility of rescheduling,” Whealy said. Any books purchased by students through Scholastic Book Orders must be taken home and cannot remain on campus, Whealy added.
Similar book freezes have occurred in other Florida districts following the legislation.
Orange County’s school district, which boasts more than 206,000 students in the Orlando area and is the fourth largest district in Florida, sent out guidance earlier this month instructing schools to avoid adding new material to library shelves until the media training is complete next year, according to an email shared on a school board watch Facebook page.
“The memo speaks for itself and was provided to staff prior to the start of school, it is still active and serves as the current direction given to staff,” a district spokesperson told HuffPost in an updated statement Thursday.
In an earlier statement, the spokesperson said that the district’s halt to new reading material in classrooms was specific to grades K-3 and pertains to books on the subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In Brevard County east of Orlando, where the school district enrolls more than 74,000 students, people complained at a school board meeting last week that teachers had been told to remove books that hadn’t been pre-approved and books that discuss sexual orientation and gender identity, Florida Today reported.
A spokesperson for Brevard Public Schools denied to HuffPost on Tuesday that it had directed its schools to limit classroom libraries, book donations or book fairs due to the new law, however.
Other school districts say they are already in compliance with the new law.
A representative with Broward County Public Schools in Fort Lauderdale, which enrolls more than 256,000 students, told HuffPost on Wednesday that its policies and procedures align with H.B. 1467.
“We will continue to train teachers and staff on proper implementation,” the representative said.
The state’s DOE did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.