By Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Calling it a move toward “curriculum transparency,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill that will intensify scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials and impose 12-year term limits on school board members.
Lawmakers approved the measure (HB 1467) during the legislative session that ended March 14.
Under the bill, school boards will be required to adopt procedures that, in part, provide for the “regular removal or discontinuance” of books from media centers based on factors such as alignment to state academic standards.
Elementary schools will be required to publish online lists of all materials maintained in school libraries or that are part of school reading lists.
DeSantis signed the bill at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, joined by Republican lawmakers and parents who described books that they opposed in their children’s school libraries. The parents described books that included such things as sexual content.
The governor, who has targeted what he calls “indoctrination” in schools, said parents developed a heightened awareness about school instruction and materials during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many students were forced to temporarily learn online.
“Parents became exposed more to what was going on in some of the schools. So they became more interested in making sure that, one, their kids weren’t being forced to do things like (wear) masks. And they go to school board meetings, which is obviously important. But also, parents want education for their kids. They’re not interested in indoctrination through the school system,” DeSantis said.
The bill would increase parental involvement in the process of selecting books and materials for classrooms. For instance, meetings held for “ranking, eliminating or selecting” instructional materials for recommendation to school boards will be required to include parents of district students.
When books are removed from schools “as a result of an objection,” the state Department of Education will be responsible for publishing a list of the books and providing it to districts throughout the state “for consideration in their selection procedures.”
DeSantis called the changes in the bill “well-meaning reforms.”
“What ends up being in that classroom or in that library … the parent doesn’t necessarily have control. But at that point, once it’s there or going to be proposed, you have the opportunity to review. There’s procedures that will be in place. And, if it violates state standards, if it’s not consistent with what we’ve set out under Florida law, then the parent can prevail,” DeSantis said.
Some Democrats and other critics have compared the bill to “book-burning” practices of authoritarian governments.
“In the age of the internet, where endless information is quite literally one keystroke, one click away, do we really want to join the likes of dictators across the world and allow the banning and possibly burning of books?” Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, asked while debating the bill this month.
The Florida Freedom to Read Project, an Orange County-based group formed this year to oppose efforts to step up scrutiny of school books, decried the bill’s signing Friday.
“HB 1467 is now signed into law. This law will allow the most conservative communities the opportunity to censor school libraries throughout the state. FL is a diverse state with large, progressive and inclusive communities. This law is unconstitutional,” the group said in a Twitter post.
At the bill-signing event, DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and lawmakers also touted the part of the bill placing term limits on school board members.
Corcoran pointed to several school boards that defied DeSantis directives last year by requiring students to wear masks during the pandemic.
“There’s no greater accountability than telling a politician, your career ends, dead-certain, at this point in time,” Corcoran, a former state House speaker, said. “Having term limits for school board members is long overdue.”
Critics of the proposal have argued that term limits aren’t needed, as elections already give voters the opportunity to remove school board members from office.
DeSantis suggested that elections are just another option.
“I’m a big believer in term limits. But you don’t always have to wait for that,” DeSantis said. “You can throw the bums out in the election.”