The Latest: On behalf of the Florida Freedom to Read Project we’ve launched an investigation into the actions of the Florida Department of Education and counties around the state. These governments–the Florida Department of Education, school boards, and countless other public officials supported by taxpayer dollars–are pulling books from shelves, ripping out pages of curriculum, and eliminating decades of progress towards diversity and representation in Florida’s schools, all the while claiming that these changes are to “protect” Florida’s children. We are shedding light on these backwards-looking actions and calling for freedom to read and learn for all Florida students.

BACKGROUND

Schools, libraries, and curriculum should be inclusive of and accessible to all students, families, and communities, but right-wing extremists are pushing a censorship agenda. In communities in Florida, Texas, and across the country, school boards and other actors are restricting access to books, violating the freedom to read. Democracy Forward joins in solidarity together in the fight against censorship.

OUR WORK

Florida

Florida Department of Education: This spring, Florida adopted H.B. 1467, a law that purports to improve curriculum transparency. Under the law, state-trained staff must inspect all school material to determine and remove content that may harm students, as measured against controversial state-developed criteria. Beginning next year, schools and their libraries will be prohibited from purchasing or accepting donations of books unless those books have been pre-approved by the state-trained staff. The law has already had a chilling effect, as some districts across the state have instructed their staff to halt acquiring new books for their libraries as they wait for the Florida Department of Education to implement the new law. The Florida Department of Education has begun implementing the law and initial indicators suggest that rather than increasing transparency, the law is being implemented in a fashion that censors students’ access to information and politicizes learning and libraries. We are holding Florida’s Department of Education accountable for its implementation process by seeking records of every-step of the process and ensuring that the Department of Education complies with its obligations to serve all Florida students.

Collier County: After receiving complaints from a rightwing parents group about a wide-array of books in the school library, Collier County responded by placing a “parental advisory” on the books, warning parents that some community members find the content “unsuitable” for students. The notice provides no context: not the identity of the complainants, their particular grievances, reasons behind the complaints, or any age guidance. The school took it upon itself, without any transparent process, to adopt the grievances of a particular subset of community members at the exclusion of countless students and parents. We are seeking information about Collier County’s decision-making process to ensure that students and parents have a say in the positions that their school district adopts.

Hernando County: In recent months, Hernando County removed certain books concerning LGBTQ+ and race-related topics from its school library shelves. When questioned about the removals, school staff conceded that the removals were prompted by campaign fodder from one particular candidate for school board. That candidate posted online videos of himself reading passages from those particular books that he found offensive. In response, the school district circumvented any transparent process and simply removed the books in question from school library shelves. We are seeking to hold Hernando County accountable for having an accessible and transparent process that is informed by students and parents, not local political campaigns.

Granbury, TX

Records Retention: Chris Tackett, a parent in Granbury, TX, is seeking records related to the district’s alleged plans to review books related to LGBTQ issues. On July 11, 2022, on behalf of Mr. Tackett, we requested all text messages between Granbury ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Glenn and any Granbury trustees regarding efforts to strip books from Granbury ISD shelves. On August 23, 2022 we filed another request for any texts sent or received by Dr. Glenn pertaining to official business. In response, on September 6, 2022 we received a handful of texts and a letter informing us that Granbury ISD would seek permission from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office to withhold others.

To date, the District has provided only a handful of documents, and has also informed us that the Superintendent likely deleted any such text messages–a potential violation of state records retention laws. But we believe the public has a right to know how government officials are conducting official business, including how they may be trying to censor constitutionally protected speech.

We believe that the public has a right to know how government officials are conducting official business, including how they may be trying to censor constitutionally protected speech. Click here for more from Chris Tackett.

CensorshipReporting on the August, 2022 school board meeting highlighted the renewed efforts to have more books to be “permanently” removed from Granbury ISD schools. On September 12, 2022 we requested records from the Granbury ISD School Board regarding these proceedings and others going back to fall 2021.

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Last Update: October 11, 2022