Standing behind a sign proclaiming “curriculum transparency,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed into law a measure setting added requirements for schools as they select books.
“I think it’s going to help give parents a lot of confidence that they can send their kids to school and they’ll get an education but they’re not necessarily going to be indoctrinated in things that are very, very questionable,” said DeSantis, appearing at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach..
In recent months, parents in several counties including Hillsborough have urged their school districts to remove titles that they have deemed pornographic and questioned how they landed on the shelves in the first place. Many relate to LGTBQ coming of age stories such as Gender Queer, a graphic novel that Pinellas County schools pulled and which DeSantis specifically mentioned.
The bill (HB 1467) also sets 12-year limits on the terms of school board members, starting with those who win in the Nov. 8 general election.
“I’m a big believer in term limits,” DeSantis said, suggesting Florida should have them for Congress and other elected offices too. “But you don’t always even have to wait for that to attach. You can throw the bums out in the election.”
He said he planned to get “involved” this fall in local board elections.
Both portions of the new law have drawn criticism.
Regarding the term limits, legal experts have suggested the Legislature and governor might not have the authority to restrict length of service for school board members, whose posts are established in the state Constitution.
Past discussions about school board term limits have considered seeking voter approval to amend the Constitution, which sets terms at four years but includes no maximum number. The Constitution also does not include school board members in the section on elections that speaks directly to term limits.
Lawmakers relied on a 2012 state Supreme Court decision regarding the Broward County charter government establishing term limits for county commissioners to guide their action. Several lawyers said that precedent might justify the action, or it might not.
“I could imagine other arguments that the Legislature cannot impose obstacles to the electoral process when the Constitution doesn’t impose one. This will be an interesting issue,” said Miami attorney Edward Guedes, who often represents the Miami-Dade County school district.
Regarding the book selection process, the new law requires schools to open to the public any committee meeting where books will be reviewed for purchase, and to make all material available for public review before it is approved. It also mandates that schools post all the selection criteria they use in choosing books.
It does not change the book challenge process that already was in place, though it does instruct the state Department of Education to prepare a list annually of books that were objected to, including the outcomes and reasons behind the decisions.
Florida already had several laws in place establishing that trained media specialists and librarians select age-appropriate books for their shelves. The laws also lay out questions the schools must consider when picking the titles.
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“This has been in state law for years, and we have been in compliance for years,” Pinellas chief academic officer Kevin Hendrick told his board at a recent workshop.
But DeSantis stated that many districts nevertheless have books on their shelves that are not appropriate for some children.
“Parents understand when they see this, they understand how to blow the whistle on this,” DeSantis said. “And I think we just need to make sure that they’re equipped to be able to do what needs to be done to basically defend the education of their kids.”
Parents attending DeSantis’ bill signing praised the legislation as supporting them over the school systems that haven’t always received the parental scrutiny they deserve.
“I’m thankful for a governor who has the courage to lead with integrity and to partner with parents as we strive to raise the standard of excellence in our education system,” said Alicia Farrant, who is running for Orange County School Board. “I stand here today representing thousands of mothers and fathers who have felt voiceless.”
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