On May 1 and 2, 2023, Democracy Forward headed to Florida for a hearing in our legal challenge to Governor Ron DeSantis’ unlawful censorship agenda.

Educators and parents had their day in court to make clear how the DeSantis administration has unlawfully exceeded its authority, caused classroom libraries to shutter, and hurt students, parents, teachers, and librarians.

On behalf of Florida Education Association (FEA), the Florida Freedom To Read Project, and Families for Strong Public Schools, and with co-counsel Grossman, Furlow & Bayó, LLC, we were in court challenging two rules from DeSantis’ Department of Education — the Training Rule and the Elementary School Rule.

These rules unlawfully and illogically burden educators and create barriers to students accessing books in school — by defining terms and imposing new requirements and restrictions beyond those approved by the legislature.

Specifically, the DeSantis administration adopted an expansive definition of “library media center” to include nearly every collection of books and other materials in schools. It then used that definition to restrict teachers from selecting materials for their own classrooms and instead required a certified librarian to approve each and every book and other media accessible to students at school. The DeSantis administration also applied the novel definition to require teachers to catalog every book or piece of media in their classrooms, an onerous burden far beyond what the legislature required.

These unlawful rules, like the rest of DeSantis’ radical censorship agenda, make it very costly and nearly impossible for teachers and librarians to do their jobs, and are harming public education and student literacy in Florida.

Despite DeSantis claiming to stand up for “parents’ rights,” his administration and his legal team were focused on silencing parents.

The DeSantis administration opened the hearing by arguing that parents aren’t harmed when books are inaccessible in their kids’ classrooms. Rather, they told the parents to take their concerns elsewhere.

Educators and parents shared how these DeSantis rules have caused real harm.

Over the two-day hearing, our witnesses testified that educators seek to foster the love of reading and books in children, but that these rules have forced them to put those books in storage or cover them up.

FEA Director of Organizing and Field Services Jason Joseph told the court how teachers have removed books from their classroom libraries — and some have even donated their books to Goodwill. Tania Galiñanes, a Library Media Specialist in Osceola County, Florida, testified that students in her county have been unable to access books in their classroom libraries because of the rules.

And other testimony showed how teachers are spending time that they could be using to prepare for lessons and mentor students to catalog books instead.

The Florida Department of Education claimed that not a single dime would be spent to implement either the Training Rule or the Elementary School Rule, and reiterated that claim during the hearing. But our witnesses testified to the significant costs of implementing these rules — both monetarily and in educator time.

Ms. Galiñanes testified about significant overtime costs that her district is expending to implement the rules. Mr. Joseph testified that other districts are having to pay overtime and purchase software and equipment to implement the rules. And FL DOE’s own witness testified that implementing the rules would require time and effort. And yet the Department continues to claim that implementing the rules has “no cost at all.”

When state officials unlawfully attack educators, remove books from classrooms, and try to cancel history – endangering the ability of students across the country to receive a quality education – we will use all the legal tools at our disposal to fight back.

We expect to file an additional brief in the coming weeks, and then will await a decision from the judge in this case.