Latest Update May 1, 2023

Educators and Parents Have Their Day in Court in Challenge to DeSantis’ Censorship Agenda

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.

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Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1467 on March 25, 2022, after working in close coordination with far-right pro-censorship activists. The law gave FLDOE specific authority related to prescribing the format for certain lists of materials in central school libraries and on official reading lists and developing a particular training for educators. 

The Florida DOE exceeded its authority and rewrote the law through the rulemaking process for the Training Rule and the Elementary School Rule by unlawfully and illogically defining terms and imposing new requirements and restrictions beyond those approved by the legislature. 

Specifically, the state adopted an expansive definition of “library media center” to include nearly every collection of books and other materials in schools. It then applied that definition to a training requirement for staff selecting materials.

Florida’s Training Rule and Elementary School Rule are unjustified, irrational, and unlawful. These rules:

  • are invalid exercises of delegated legislative authority;
  • exceed the “specific powers and duties” that the legislature delegated to FLDOE;
  • change and expand the meaning and effect of HB 1467;
  • adopt definitions that are contrary to the generally understood meaning of terms, impose restrictions and requirements on educators and parents that the legislature did not intend; and,
  • violate the required rulemaking process.  

The DeSantis administration’s unlawful censoring of educators in Florida is part of the tsunami of anti-democratic book bans and attacks on public education happening in states and communities around the country.  

These attacks are harming educators, students, families, and the entire public education system. Teachers and school librarians or library media specialists have been compelled to self-censor out of fear of losing their job – or worse, being subjected to criminal allegations – simply for trying to provide a safe learning environment for all students. Classroom and school library shelves have been left barren, students are unable to find books reflective of a diverse range of interests and from an inclusive list of voices, and parents have been silenced.

On March 16, 2023, the Florida Education Association, the Florida Freedom to Read Project, and Families for Strong Public Schools — represented by Democracy Forward and Grossman, Furlow & Bayo, LLC — filed a petition challenging the DeSantis administration’s actions that shutter classroom libraries and undermine public education. 

We are seeking an order holding the rules unlawful and directing the Florida Department of Education (“FLDOE”) to halt enforcement of these rules and to notify Florida schools that the rules exceed FLDOE’s authority and will not be enforced. An order finding the rules unlawful and unenforceable would help alleviate the burden on teachers and library staff, mitigate the harm on students and parents, and enable the re-opening of classroom libraries across the state. 

When state officials unlawfully attack teachers and librarians, ban books, and try to cancel history – endangering the ability of students in America to receive a quality education – we will use all legal tools at our disposal to fight back. Read the release here