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Duval Schools dispute governor's claim they tried to 'create friction'

"In Duval, what they were doing was intentionally trying to create friction to act like something was wrong in the state of Florida," DeSantis said.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Duval County Public Schools has responded after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed the county was trying to "create friction". 

During a press conference last week, Gov. DeSantis said “In Duval, what they were doing was intentionally trying to create issues to act like something was wrong in the state of Florida", when discussing House Bill 1467. 

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz doubled down on those criticisms. He said the district's unnecessary removal of some books caused confusion.

“I wrote a letter to the superintendent and said, ‘What are you doing with this book? With Roberto Clemente? This book needs to be put back on the shelves. It’s necessary for our students.’ Magically, the next morning they said that this book was approved, the Hank Aaron book was approved,” Diaz said.

This week, parents, teachers and librarians filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education, which they said has gone beyond the scope of what House 1467 allows. 

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said the DOE is enforcing the law in classrooms instead of just school libraries.

“In a lot of classrooms, that’s hundreds if not thousands of books, and so it’s depriving kids of access to books that they need to be successful readers," Spar said. "It’s certainly burdening our teachers and staff in our schools and it’s not what the law intended by any stretch of the imagination.”

When First Coast News reached out to DCPS for comment, the district emphasized they are taking the steps needed to "fully comply with Florida law" and to protect their educators.

DCPS then provided a timeline of events to dispute the idea that they took steps to "create friction and issues". 

Read the timeline provided by DCPS below: 

1. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1467 in March 2022. It became law on July 1, 2022. Under this new law, all books in school libraries must be reviewed by a certified media specialist.

2. Subsequent to this law being signed into statute, the district began reviewing books in “school library media centers.”  Much of the review of the books in our library media centers has been completed.

3. On Oct. 19, 2022, Florida's State Board of Education clarified the law, interpreting school library media centers to include elementary school classroom libraries, as well. (Rule 6a-7.0713 effective Nov. 22, 2022). Classroom libraries are sets of books in classrooms that teachers typically use to facilitate independent reading. Classroom libraries may include books the district purchased, donated books to the school, or books that teachers might have purchased over their careers.

4. The state released its statutorily required media specialist training to the district on Jan. 1, 2023.

5. After receiving this training and disseminating it to our school and district certified media specialists (as well as other staff), the district began the classroom library book review process in late January, instructing elementary school teachers to cover or set aside unapproved books and only use state approved books or resources from approved curriculum sources.

a. At no time should a classroom have been without reading resources.

b. At all times, students would have had access to state approved books, already approved civics literacy books, Benchmark Advance small group books, Reader’s Theatre, and extensive online resources in our curriculum.

c. The much discussed “Roberto Clemente” book, which was being held for grade level evaluation, was reviewed and released for classroom use on Feb.9.

d. Media centers were not closed.  Principals rightly removed or covered books that may have contained material objectionable under state law.  A small number of principals did close or overly restrict access to their media centers for a brief time.  Those principals were counseled to restore access to those resources.

6. As of today, more than 10,000 books have been approved by certified media specialists for elementary classroom use, and all those titles should be available for teachers and students. 

7. The review of elementary school titles is an ongoing, continuous process. Even after all currently held titles are reviewed, any new titles coming into libraries will require review by a certified media specialist.

8. In late February, we deployed scanning and inventorying technology to create on online, searchable database of all classroom library books available to children, which is another requirement of Florida law. 

The roundtable was not the first time DeSantis had mentioned Duval County by name. In a press release sent out on March 8, the Governor addressed the idea that Florida school had been directed to "empty libraries" and "cover classroom books". The release said in the 23 districts that reported removing books, the most were removed from Duval and St. Johns County. Both distracts reported removing 19 books. According to the Governor's release that is "not even close to a whole classroom library".

DeSantis also called the viral video of empty bookshelves in Duval County a "fake narrative" during a press conference on Feb. 14. 

Gov. DeSantis has repeatedly called the situation the "Book Ban Hoax".

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