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The new law effectively institutionalizes censorship, with broad criteria like “not suited to student needs.”
Nosy Floridians now have another outlet for their moral outrage. Now anybody in the US state can formally complain about books used in public schools, and schools are required to hear them out.
Last week governor Rick Scott signed a bill that allows any Florida resident to formally challenge new or old materials, like books and movies, available in public schools. In drafting the bill, lawmakers specifically added language that expanded the complaint process to include anyone, not just parents.
Each district school board must adopt a policy regarding a parent’s objection to his or her child’s use of a specific instructional material, which clearly describes a process to handle all objections and provides for resolution.
New law, with new language highlighted:
Each district school board must adopt a policy regarding an
a parent’sobjection by a parent or a resident of the county to the his or her child’suse of a specific instructional material, which clearly describes a process to handle all objections and provides for resolution.
The law also lays out specific guidelines on how schools should field complaints to materials used in class, included in school libraries, and placed on reading lists. Previously the law said that when schools wanted to add new materials, parents had to file a petition within 30 days of the introduction, and that schools had to list the petition on their site and hold a public forum about it. The new version of the law adds that the petition can be filed by anyone, not just a parent; that forums will be overseen by a formal hearing officer, who can’t be an employee of the school district; and that schools now have 30 days to hold the forums, instead of seven.
It adds three reasons that material can be challenged:
- it is pornographic or prohibited under s. 847.012
- it is not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented
- it is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used
The purported goal of the bill is to create more transparency around what Florida kids are learning in school. But it effectively institutionalizes censorship, with broad criteria like “not suited to student needs.” Critics fear that the new legislation constitutes a big step toward the suppression of information on evolution and climate change. And it can be used as a formal process to keep out classics and new works that Floridians think are inappropriate.
According to the office for intellectual freedom (OIF), a part of the American Library Association, the added red-tape will ultimately be used to pressure individual teachers into sticking with safe choices. “The goal of this bill is to tie up educators with so much process and challenge and review that they give up on trying to teach contemporary authors on difficult subjects,” says OIF director James LaRue, “And to intimidate anyone who crosses a political line.”
He adds, “This is not about education; it’s about politics.”