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Censorship fears deepen as Broward teacher told to 'cover and close all classroom libraries'

Jessica Ruscello

Editor's Note: After this story was published, a spokesperson for Broward County Public Schools responded to a request for comment, saying the directive to close and cover classroom libraries did not come from district-level staff. This story was updated at 3:30 pm Monday.

Teachers at a school in Broward County have been told to cover up their classroom libraries in response to new state laws, according to an email shared with WLRN.

The move is part of a wave of censorship across Florida’s public schools, as Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his campaign to restrict how race, identity and history can be talked about in the classroom.

A Broward teacher received the email on Jan. 27. In it, a supervisor told her and her colleagues to “cover and close all classroom libraries."

“[D]o not allow students to have any access to them for the time being. New statutes have been put into place and every title must be vetted and approved,” the email reads.

Catherine — WLRN is not sharing her last name or the name of her school to protect her privacy — says she’s spent years curating a classroom library for her students.

“When they have free time and they could just pick up a book to read … they can't pull one off my shelf,” she said. “Because I’m not allowed to allow students to use them right now.”

A spokesperson for Broward County Public Schools said the directive did not come from district-level staff and that "[p]er the Office of Academics, students have access to classroom libraries."

The order came after the state Board of Education adopted new rules requiring that school media specialists be in charge of selecting all library books — including books in classroom libraries.

Many teachers see their classroom collections as passion projects, curating titles specifically for their students and paying for the books through donations or out of their own paychecks.

In the new state training, officials warn educators that they risk committing a felony if they lend out books that are considered "harmful to minors" under state law.

In order to qualify as harmful under state statutes, the material must be without any “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." But critics of the state’s new training say what constitutes “value” is in the eye of the beholder — or the parent willing to file a lawsuit.

In response to the new state rules, some school districts have directed teachers to cover up their classroom libraries, including in Manatee County, where photos of bookshelves shrouded in construction paper drew national headlines.

Other counties appear to be letting school-level administrators and media specialists take the lead on what to do about classroom library books.

A representative for the Monroe County School District told WLRN that teachers there will continue their “normal procedures” and keep their classroom libraries open and accessible until June 30, the deadline for media specialists to complete the new training.

“Any Monroe County parent who wishes to exclude a book from their child’s reading plan has always been and will continue to be welcome to do so,” MCSD spokesperson Amber Acevedo said in an email. “Both Principals and teachers are available to support parents and believe in parental rights to help make book selections.”

Catherine in Broward County says the new restrictions — and the threats of prosecution — have left her questioning what she’s allowed to teach.

“I'm about to teach the Renaissance. Well, what am I allowed to show them?” she said. “Some of the greatest pieces of art that I could show them from the Renaissance time period, some people would consider pornography.”

In the meantime, Catherine says she’s scaling back the teaching style she’s developed over the past two decades. For now, she says she’s just sticking to the state-approved textbook.

“It's forcing me to water down what I'm teaching [students]. It is forcing me to clip their wings and mine,” Catherine said. “And we’re selling our children short.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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