Aug 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Florida school district rejects dictionary donations amid new book law

Photo of Ron DeSantis speaking while raising his hands
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally on Aug. 19 in Pittsburgh. Photo: Jeff Swensen via Getty Images

A Florida school district rejected a donation of dictionaries after putting a freeze on new books in libraries and classrooms as officials navigate a new state law designed to make it easier to pull books deemed objectionable.

Why it matters: It's an issue many districts are likely wrestling with as students return to school in Republican-led states that have implemented restrictions on book content targeting topics like race, gender and sexuality.

Details: The Venice Rotary Club has partnered with the nonprofit Dictionary Project to donate over 4,000 dictionaries to elementary schools in the Sarasota County School District for almost 15 consecutive years, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

  • This year, the donation was rejected for the first time.

Zoom in: The new law requires a certified education media specialist to review and select all reading materials in schools. The school board has approved the job description for the role but currently no one fills the position.

  • The freeze on new books in Sarasota schools is slated to last until January at the earliest to give the district time to hire specialists and work with guidance from the state's Department of Education, district media relations specialist Kelsey Whealy said in a statement.

Between the lines: A pivotal midterm election year, COVID-19 frustrations and a backlash against efforts to call out systemic racism — driven disproportionately by white, suburban and rural parents — have made public schools ground zero in the culture wars, Axios' Russell Contreras writes.

Don't forget: The Florida Department of Education announced in April that it rejected dozens of math textbooks because they "contained prohibited topics," including critical race theory.

The big picture: School districts from Pennsylvania to Wyoming have bowed to pressure from some conservative groups to remove books about LGBTQ issues and people of color.

  • In Des Moines, six book bans have been requested in the Iowa capital's largest metro school districts.
  • In Texas, a school district has temporarily removed all books that have been challenged within the last year, including the Bible and an adaption of Anne Frank's diary.
  • Representatives for DeSantis and the Education Department did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
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