School librarians inspect ‘over a million books’ to comply with new Florida law

‘The state gave us guidelines, but there’s some gray in there,’ says OCPS Superintendent

ORLANDO, Fla. – Media specialists have been working through the summer to make sure school and classroom libraries are up to new state standards.

“They have received training, and they are reviewing books,” said Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Maria Vazquez. “I think we have over a million books that have been or are in the process of being reviewed. They’re not going to be able to finish (in time for the school year). Imagine how many books. It’s an extensive review, and we want to make sure we’re doing the job correctly.”

Vazquez said the summertime review was partially prompted by the passage of a new law during the last session of the Florida legislature.

House Bill 1069 now requires school districts to remove books that “depict or describe sexual conduct.”

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“The state gave us guidelines, but there’s some gray in there, and that’s where we really look to the experts and the training that’s been provided,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez said the review begins at the school level with media specialists.

If a book is flagged, a panel at the district level then reviews the book, and they make a final decision.

None of the nine Central Florida school districts have removed a book yet to comply with this law, according to News 6 research.

Parents fighting book removal

“I’m a parent of two elementary school-aged kids here in Orange County, and I am very concerned about the limitations that are being placed on their education,” said Stephana Ferrell.

Ferrell said she is so concerned that she and other parents co-founded the Florida Freedom to Read Project.

On the group’s website, they document what they call attempts to censor or ban books in school classrooms and libraries.

So far, the group has counted 1,684 books that have been temporarily or permanently removed because some in the community believe they are inappropriate.

[RELATED: Here’s a list of books banned, under review in Central Florida schools]

“We don’t need a nanny state,” said Farrell. “We don’t need the government limiting those conversations and doing the work for us.”

Farrell recently attended the Florida Board of Education meeting in Orlando, where she held a book over her head to protest the removal of books.

“So what we see is districts are avoiding the challenge process and removing those risky books that could lead to possible litigation ahead of any challenges coming in,” she said. “In the end, that saves the district money and headaches, and let’s just keep those troubling, controversial books off the shelf.”

Districts wait for more guidance

Some school districts told News 6 they were waiting for more guidance from the Florida Department of Education before removing any books.

Lake County Schools, for example, restricted elementary school access to the book “And Tango Makes Three” last school year.

The book tells the story of two male penguins who hatch an egg and raise the baby penguin together.

In court filings, the district claimed it made the decision based on the Parental Rights in Education Law, dubbed the Don’t Say Gay law by critics.

In later filings and during arguments in a current lawsuit over the restriction of the book, the district later claimed it removed those restrictions after the state failed to give guidance and set rules.

Watch Solutionaries tackle the issue of banning books.

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About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.