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Teacher frustrated by book policy: 'The state of Florida definitely put Duval Public Schools in a hole'

Chris Guerrieri has taught in Duval County classrooms for 22 years and says the latest policy about books in schools is too restrictive.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — How many books will go back on shelves in Jacksonville classrooms?

Dr. Diana Greene, the Superintendent of Duval Public Schools sent an email to district educators Thursday afternoon about the topic of restricted books. 

In the email, Greene wrote that the district told teachers to reduce their classroom libraries to only include books that have been approved.

The email also stated that there are 1.6 million book titles in schools and so far only 6,000 have been approved, which is less than 1%. The district is utilizing 54 certified media specialists to work through the review/approval list.

"It's frustrating and maddening, I wonder what the future of the teaching profession is," said Chris Guerrieri, a teacher in Duval County with 22 years of experience. Guerrieri said the latest restriction on classroom books is a slap in the face

"The state of Florida definitely put Duval Public Schools in a hole, they don't think teachers are professional and don't think teachers can be trusted, which I think is terrible," said Guerrieri.

When First Coast News reached out to the district to speak with Greene about the email, the district referred us to the text of the email for answers to our questions. The email that Greene sent to Duval school educators, stressed that "students and teachers will have access to a diverse and legally compliant set of books." 

Guerrieri said that teaching in a manner that is legally compliant is restrictive.

"An admin of the district recently told the media specialist that if you're teaching slavery, make sure you're teaching the positive sides of it as well," said Guerrieri. "I'm not worried about a 3rd degree felony and I can't imagine any teacher is, but we're worried about how we can teach and how we can teach effectively because that tool is being taken out of our tool box."

The law about classroom books does not go into effect until after the school year. Guerrieri believes the district's adjustment to the law during the middle of the school year will have a negative impact on students and veteran teachers.

"They've learned what works and doesn't work and for midway through the year to completely switch gears it's going to be hard and extra work," said Guerrieri. "Either they [district and state] knew it and didn't care or they didn't know it and I don't know which is worse."

One book in particular that will go back on school shelves is a book called Henry Aaron's Dream. It's a story about a young boy in the 1950s who overcame the offs in Jacksonville to eventually become an American sports hero.

Matt Tavares is the author of Henry Aaron's Dream and is thrilled that kids in Jacksonville will be able to read about a positive example.

Henry Aaron's Dream is a picture book made for kids, but it deals with a harsh part of our country's history.

"For a lot of kids, a picture book about this might be the first they heard of the segregation era," said Tavares.

Before Hank Aaron broke the Major League Baseball home run record, he played minor league baseball in Jacksonville. A field at James P. Small Park in Durkeville is still named after him. Tavares thinks his book is a good story for all ages.

"It's a story about an underdog overcoming tough odds, I've shared it with kids throughout the years," said Tavares. "He encountered a lot of racism along the way but it's something that kids can learn about in 2023 that is history."

The book shows today's children the harsh realities of what life was like for African Americans in the South in the 1950s.

"We're not doing anyone any good by pretending it didn't happen by trying to protect kids from some of the uglier aspects of what did happen," said Tavares.

Henry Aaron's Dream, along with a book about Roberto Clemente are two of 27 books that were approved by the district this week.

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