Florida school librarians face increased scrutiny as new training seeks to stop ‘pornography’

New rule requires school library employees and teachers to complete training sessions each year

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State Board of Education voted to adopt two rules that some organizations like Florida Equality feels threatens to remove the professional licenses of school staff if they violate the new rules.

After almost an hour of public comments and a presentation by the deputy chancellor of the Florida State Board of Education, the motion passed.

School librarians in Florida are now required to undergo specialized state training on the new rules for what can and cannot go in school media centers. The training is a result of a state law passed last year that aimed at putting a lot more control over how schools instruct and talk about race, gender identity and sexual orientation.

“These plans and certifications are required by various Florida statutes. This will also incorporate a new library media training required by HB1467, which underwent a rigorous development process in order to be put in place,” Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality at the Florida Department of Education Dr. Paul Burns said.

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The new rule requires school library employees and teachers to complete training sessions each year, so they know how to increase their research into library books and instructional materials. Criteria specific to library books include those books be free of pornography and material considered harmful to minors under state law.

Prior to the board’s approval, more than a dozen people voiced their concerns during the public meeting that took place in Tallahassee.

“I’m asking you to strengthen the language in the library training so that it can’t be manipulated to exploit any loopholes. When graphic sexual content is present, it overrides the stated literary value. Once a child consumes the content, it’s irreversible and the damage is already done,” Kerry Takacs, a Brevard County resident, said in front of the board.

Michelle Beavers, who said she was part of the group that worked on the new training for teachers and library staff, pointed out that the groups’ wording had been changed.

“That basically tells librarians that you need to be careful and make sure it has serious literary value before it comes in our libraries. The DOE actually changed our verbiage and put in their own sentences for that slide 10, and it has the exact opposite, so I’d like you to look at that,” Beavers said.

When asked about the various concerns with slide 10 of Dr. Burns presentation, he said that section is copied directly from the law and cannot be changed unless the state legislature decides to.

The training would make clear that descriptions or representations of nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement in books would have to meet various criteria to be considered harmful to minors.

“The bulk of it is fine, but there are a few things that need some serious tweaking and I’m asking you all to not just rubber stamp this training and actually make the changes that we need to make this training great and protect our kids,” Katie Delaney said to the board.

In an email to News 6, Orange County’s teacher union president, Clinton McCracken said:

“While the governor and the Florida Board of Education are focused on creating unnecessary rules to fix a problem that didn’t exist and arduous tasks for our already overburdened teachers, the real crisis they should be focused on is the massive teacher shortage and low pay. Florida ranks 49th in the U.S. for average teacher pay. We have 5,300 teacher vacancies in Florida, 300 of them here in Orange County. We encourage lawmakers to concentrate on helping our heroic veteran teachers be able to afford to live on their salaries instead of having to take on second and third jobs. This is the crisis that needs attention, not unnecessary book bans.”

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