It just got much more difficult for children in a Sarasota school district to access books this school year. After Florida Gov. Ron Desantis signed HB1467, a law that revised selection requirements for school materials, the Sarasota County School District froze donations and purchases of library books in school. It's the latest in book restrictions across the country, as more schools participate in book bans.
Accessing books is on hold until they receive more guidance from the Florida Department of Education, the Sarasota school district told the paper. The bill requires all reading material to be approved by an employee with a valid education media specialist certificate, which the district says they still need to hire. School-related book fairs, a treasured pastime of kids everywhere, can't be scheduled if they haven't already been planned.
One Florida teacher shared her frustrations on social media.
“Today teachers in Sarasota County were told: *No purchases or donations of any kind of books or reading materials. *No book fairs. *Parents can request alternative instructional materials for ANYTHING we teach. *If we want to read anything to our kids, we have to get it approved in advance. *Don’t give kids any gifts tied to reading. *Our amazing librarian can’t even do read alouds with our youngest students. Is this what you want for your children? Only allowing them to view what’s in state approved textbooks?...This is so depressing for teachers and such a disservice to students.”
According to the Herald-Tribune, teachers aren't prohibited from reading books aloud to children, but the ban has still presented much unrest in the community.
The Literacy Project says 1 in 4 children grow up without learning to read, and 3 out of 4 people who use public assistance can’t read. They point to a study of 100,000 children that says access to printed materials was the key variable affecting kids’ reading acquisition and success, making the Sarasota County School District’s ban more concerning.
The American Library Association says that strong library programs with helpful librarians available impacted higher reading scores as well. The ban also calls into question teacher’s individual classroom libraries, which wouldn’t be allowed to be put to good use until their books are approved. Often these libraries have leveled books for each reader by interest level, increasing access, and many times are funded by teacher’s own pockets to ensure kids have the books they need.
Since the 1600’s there have been battles against and for book banning in the U.S. Most recently, other Texas schools have told staff to remove books that have been challenged through formal complaints during the past year, including the Bible and an illustrated version of Anne Frank’s Diary, CNN reports. In past years the Fort Worth district, Keller Independent School District, challenged books like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, the latter of which was banned.
A school board member representing District 4 in Sarasota tells the Herald-Tribune that she's concerned about teachers who aren't provided books from the district and can't afford to buy their own books. She says teachers know what materials and subjects they can and can't teach—the bill also calls for additional pre-authorization of instructional materials and practices for teachers.
"We can trust our teachers, especially in the elementary schools," Brown said. "If somebody has a problem with a book that's there, they can file the form and we'll look into it. We've got a procedure for that."
There is currently an impending teacher shortage, including in Florida where there are 9,000 vacancies. It's important to note that having another obstacle and additional barriers to educating students might drive even more teachers from classrooms across the country is completely unhelpful to kids overcoming pandemic learning gaps.