Jan 25, 2023 - News

Manatee County teachers cover classroom libraries to comply with new law

Illustration of a book wrapped in caution tape

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some Manatee County teachers have covered or removed their classroom libraries out of fear they could face felony charges for violating a new state law meant to restrict what kids can read.

Driving the news: Teachers took to social media to bemoan the shrouding of bookshelves after they were warned in a district memo that HB 1467 will require that all classroom reading materials be reviewed by a certified media specialist to ensure they aren't violating the new standards.

  • The memo said books should be free from pornography, suited to students' needs and ability to comprehend, and appropriate for grade level and age group.
  • It also said it must be clear "that a book depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement does not meet the tenets of "harmful to minors.'" Violating the law is a third-degree felony, the memo warned.

The rub: The district made sure its media centers and school libraries were in compliance when the law was passed last summer. But officials didn't learn until December that the law applied also to classroom libraries, which contain books and items that teachers have purchased or curated themselves.

  • Those books must now be approved before kids can read them, the district said.

What they're saying: Kevin Chapman, the district's chief of staff, told the Bradenton Herald that many of the books in classrooms are likely already approved through the district's library system, but many teachers have chosen to close access altogether to avoid the risk of prosecution.

  • The local teachers union advised teachers to listen to principals and comply, erring on the side of caution.

Zoom in: Jean Faulk, a history and journalism teacher at Bayshore High, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that she removed books on democracy and writings from John Adams because they weren't vetted.

  • "If you have a lot of books like I do, probably several hundred, it is not practical to run all of them through so we have to cover them up," Manatee High School history teacher Don Falls told the Herald-Tribune. "It is not only ridiculous but a very scary attack on fundamental rights."

What's ahead: District officials told the school board Tuesday night that they'll dispatch 500 volunteers to classrooms across the district to help speed up approval.

  • The volunteers will compare classroom books against a list of approved books and isolate for review by a specialist those not pre-approved.

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