Ron DeSantis' Book Bans

Recently, there has been an onslaught of conservative pressure to ban books with “controversial” materials from classrooms and libraries. Often these texts explore and interrogate truths about America’s history and present systemic issues such as inequality, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and classism. Florida has become one of the most contentious battlegrounds for book legislation with images of empty bookshelves trending online.

Last spring, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed three particularly contentious bills into law: HB 1557, HB 7, and HB 1467. All three laws have led Floridian educators to remove books from their shelves. HB 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, prohibits instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity in K-3 classrooms. In older grades, this instruction can only be delivered in an “age appropriate” or “developmentally appropriate” manner which adheres to “state standards.” The law does not clarify whether the rule applies to school libraries or classroom libraries, but regardless of its intention, teachers found in violation of HB 1557 risk losing their licenses.

The second and most notorious of these laws is DeSantis’ “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act (also known as HB 7) which prohibits teaching students that they should feel guilty about their race or sex. However, HB 7 doesn't just apply to classrooms, but to “all public education and state agencies.” This means that both educators and employers are forbidden from discussing any advantages or disadvantages based on race. As of October, teachers found in violation of HB 7 may also have their teaching certification revoked.

The third law, HB 1467, states that Florida schools must have online databases of every book in their collection “in searchable format” and that these books must be found by a librarian or media specialist not to contain pornography or materials deemed “harmful to minors.” The law also states that parents may challenge these materials and petition to have them removed. Further, in October, the Florida Department of Education explained that the law applies to any collection of books in a school.

As these laws have gone into effect, many worry that their vagueness encourages schools to ban titles that even come close to being violations. In particular, HB 1467 provides an avenue for parents and citizens to act individually to remove books they dislike or feel violate these laws.

Under these regulations, some teachers in Florida have closed or covered up their class libraries. Manatee High School Teacher Don Falls explained that in his school, “We were instructed last week that we essentially had three choices as far as our personal libraries that are in our classrooms. We could remove them and completely box them up. We could cover them up with paper or some sort of something. Or they could be entered into a database where the school district has all of the library books, and if the book was in the system, then it could remain on the shelf, open.”

Manatee School Board Chair Chad Choate III said that the school board is just trying to protect teachers, as violations can result in a third-degree felony. While some people in the district praise these efforts as the rights of parents at work, others believe it is a dangerous slide into censorship.