I'm a Florida Teacher. This is What's Happened to My Classroom LibraryBreaking News
tags: Florida, academic freedom, teaching history, Ron DeSantis
Andrea Phillips teaches 3rd grade students in Florida.
“I’m done! I’m done! What do I do now?” Every teacher, in every classroom, hears this many (thousands) of times daily from their students. In my classroom, for more than a decade, the answer has always been “Get a book and read.” That is until last week when I was told to pack up my classroom library until further notice.
The state of Florida, where I teach, has passed vague laws on what books teachers can and cannot have in their classrooms.
House Bill 1467, signed by Governor DeSantis in March of last year, basically states that schools must be transparent in their selection of instructional, library, and reading materials. Meaning that parents have the right to know what their students are reading and a means to view those materials. All materials must be free of pornography, gender identity issues (for students in Kindergarten through third grade), as well as any books relating to discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin. The books must also be approved by a certificated media specialist.
On the surface, this seems reasonable, but it goes much deeper. The bill does not name specific books to ban, nor a system in which to vet the books. It does, however, come with a fear-mongering threat of a class three felony, which could cause a teacher to lose not only their teaching certificate, but their right to vote as well.
Many schools, including my own, do not have a full time media specialist. Due to budget cuts, we have a media specialist every other week. That means we have one person to vet thousands of books in our school alone, before we can have them in our classrooms. In addition to the mountain of work now laid in her lap, she hasn’t even been given a system to vet the books with. Currently, it is a subjective process of a single person reviewing each book with a 12-point questionnaire. One of my issues is that what one person finds offensive, another may find silly. For example, the book ‘No, David’ by David Shannon. On one page an illustration of David running pantless down the street is shown. One media specialist may find this humorous, as it was intended, while another may label it as pornographic. The lack of directives and specificities makes me fear for the future of school-based libraries.
In an attempt to shield their teachers from disciplinary actions, my district issued a directive to make all classroom libraries and media center books unavailable to students until further directed. We have been told that this is a temporary move as the district works toward compliance with this law, but with only one person to vet thousands of books, it doesn’t feel very temporary.
I love teaching and I’m a damn good teacher. I deserve the autonomy to make decisions within my classroom for my students. I am a certified educator. My goal is to educate and expand thinking, not indoctrinate as we’ve been accused of doing. My goal is to build lifelong readers and learners, inspire curiosity, and engage students. That doesn’t happen without books. Books of all subject matters and ranges. Students need and deserve the opportunity to discover their passions and escape this crazy world in a book.