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Scrutiny of school books could get boost

By Ryan Dailey

News Service of Florida

March 15, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — Looking to build on a controversial 2022 law, a Florida House panel on Wednesday approved a bill that would bolster a process for people to object to school instructional materials and for parents to limit school-library books their children can read.

The House Education Quality Subcommittee voted 13-5 along straight party lines to support the measure, with sponsor Stan McClain, R-Ocala, pushing back against opponents who characterized it as enabling book bans.

“This idea that book banning is taking place, and all of that, is a myth and is not true. Members, what we’re trying to do is ensure that our parents continue to have the opportunity to know what materials are being used to instruct (their children) and to have the ability to challenge that,” McClain said.

Lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session passed a law designed to intensify scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials. It required school boards to adopt procedures that, in part, provide for the “regular removal or discontinuance” of books from media centers based on factors such as alignment with state academic standards.

Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed the measure, calling it a move toward “curriculum transparency.”

The bill (HB 1069) approved Wednesday would require that all instructional materials selected for use in school districts be approved by the state Department of Education. It also seeks to make the process easier for people to object to instructional materials and library books.

“The objection form, as prescribed by State Board of Education rule, and the district school board's process must be easy to read and understand and be easily accessible on the homepage of the school district's website,” the bill says.

The bill also would require that objection forms provide contact information for school districts that would point people toward submitting objections.

If an objection is filed on the basis that materials contain pornography or depictions of “sexual conduct,” the bill would require that the books or materials be removed within five school days “and remain unavailable until the objection is resolved.”

The bill also would require that parents “have the right to read passages from any material that is subject to an objection.”

Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, decried what she called an attempt at “book banning” and asked McClain if one person could be responsible for removing content for all students.

“Is it the intent of the language in those lines (in the bill) to have one parent determine what all the students in a class or school can have access to for their educational purposes?” Gantt asked.

“That could take place, yes,” McClain replied.

Gantt later suggested that the bill would weaken students’ education.

“I hope that we all understand that we are taking away the ability for our children to be critical thinkers, by telling them we want to protect their innocence. They’re going to be adults one day, and they need to be informed adults,” Gantt said.

The measure also would limit instruction on “human sexuality,” including topics such as sexually transmitted diseases, for middle- and high-school students.

That part of the measure drew sharp criticism from numerous people, with some arguing that students in lower grades benefit from sex education.

Melinda Stanwood, a Tallahassee parent who said she also is a certified sex educator, pointed to parents already having the ability to opt out of their children receiving sexual education.

“For me, sex education that promotes physical and mental health, positive relationships, consent and responsible decision-making, is as fundamental and critical part of education as any other subject,” Stanwood said.

The measure also would define “sex” as “the classification of a person as either female or male based on the organization of the body of such person for a specific reproductive role, as indicated by the person's sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, and internal and external genitalia present at birth.”

McClain defended the measure against opponents’ criticisms.

“A lot of the things, I think, that were brought forward were misinformation,” McClain said.

A similar bill (SB 1320) has been filed in the Senate.

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