TAMPA, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had hoaxes on his mind during a news conference Wednesday at the state attorney’s office in Tampa.
Ahead of DeSantis’ arrival, children were asked to leave the venue as a brief video was shown to spectators. The video, which an aide warned would be sexually graphic in nature, contained such images picked from the books “Flamer” by Mike Curato, “Let’s Talk About It” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and multiple titles by Rupi Kaur. A narrator claimed the books served to push an agenda on schoolchildren, moving past the partition “MYTH #1: Florida has banned books from the classroom,” as if the graphic images had debunked the purported claim.
“Today we’re going to be exposing — we’ve already exposed what that video, I think — this idea of a book ban in Florida, that somehow they don’t want books in the library. That’s a hoax, and that’s really a nasty hoax because it’s a hoax in service of trying to pollute and sexualize our children,” DeSantis said. “...First of all, I think that some of the news had to cut the feed because it’s graphic.”
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News 6 in February caught up with the 10 public school districts we cover in order to see if they were reviewing — or had already removed — any library books challenged over alleged sexual content. At that time, Seminole County removed two books, Lake County removed 11 books and Orange and Flagler counties removed three books, respectively. Dozens more were under review, with Polk County now requiring parental consent to check out certain titles in limbo.
“They will say we’re banning books. The Florida Department of Education does not ban any books. That’s a lie. It’s never been true. The Department of Education has never instructed any district or school to empty or cover bookshelves. As the governor mentioned, these rumors have been bolstered by fake pictures, videos circulating on social media for clicks, and sadly, some news media have reported the obviously false stories,” said Manny Diaz Jr., Florida education commissioner. “...The fact that the media on TV has to blur out the images or remove them because it might face fines, who thinks that that would be OK to have at any of our schools, especially our elementary schools? So, removing clear instances of pornography and sexually explicit materials, often within arm’s reach of our youngest kids, is not book banning. It’s protecting our children from harmful materials.”
In general, DeSantis and his guests spoke to distance the term “book ban” from the removal of books occurring in Florida schools, in large part due to how the impacted titles are otherwise accessible outside of the classroom.
The second section — “MYTH #2: Florida banned teaching about slavery” — overviews the state’s ongoing rejection of College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies course in its current form, with DeSantis clarifying that Florida turned down the course because it contains optional “queer theory, intersectionality and indoctrinating content.”
“They (College Board) were soliciting feedback, so it’s still in the experimental stages, but our department of education said, ‘This is rejected, it clearly goes against our standards about opposing ideological indoctrination,’ and so we identified the reasons why,” DeSantis said. “So you just tell me whether you think this is something that is appropriate for an African American history course. They had a thing about queer studies, right? They put that in this course, and this is the quote from one of the readings there: ‘We have to encourage and develop practices whereby queerness isn’t surrendered to the status quo of race, class, gender and sexuality,’ it means building forms of queerness that reject the given realities of the government and the market and I’m just thinking to myself, you know, ‘Why aren’t we talking about Frederick Douglass? You know, why aren’t we talking about things that I think could really matter?’”
College Board in February refuted Florida’s side of the story, issuing a statement to say “We had no negotiations about the content of this course with Florida or any other state, nor did we receive any requests, suggestions, or feedback,” adding “We deeply regret not immediately denouncing the Florida Department of Education’s slander, magnified by the DeSantis administration’s subsequent comments, that African American Studies ‘lacks educational value.’”
For “MYTH #3: Florida is banning children’s books about Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente,” the claim in question referenced a story out of Duval County in which its school district held Jonah Winter and Raúl Colón’s “Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates” from library shelves as it was reviewed for age appropriateness, along with at least 175 other titles. According to our news partners at News4JAX, DeSantis dismissed notions that the state or any of its actions had prompted the book’s removal, calling the story “manufactured” then and now, adding at the conference Wednesday that he thinks the school district was acting methodically in a way “to get more maximum impact in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Guest speakers at the news conference made calls for new laws to tighten the discrepancy books are subjected to before reaching school libraries.
“Clearly, we need a strong fearless leader to take a stand against the ideologues and hold them accountable, we must have legislation without loopholes. There are some bad actors in our schools who will try to exploit every little loophole and it is simply not fair to hastily slap on the ‘book banner’ label,” said Julie Gebhards, a parent in Hillsborough County. “For heaven’s sake, huge book retailers and public libraries everywhere are proactively filling endcaps with these banned books, available to anyone. How ironic. It is simply a lie to say these books are being banned.”
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