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Manatee schools continue book-vetting for state compliance

Some books brought into Manatee County classrooms by teachers face the possibility of being deemed inappropriate after a new Florida law has increased the scrutiny on reading material.

The media center in R. Dan Nolan Middle School, along with every other media center in the School District of Manatee County, has had its books vetted and approved. Now schools are working on vetting books in classroom libraries.
The media center in R. Dan Nolan Middle School, along with every other media center in the School District of Manatee County, has had its books vetted and approved. Now schools are working on vetting books in classroom libraries.
File photo
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Media specialists across the School District of Manatee County are working to ensure compliance with a state law that requires all books in a school be approved by a trained media specialist.

Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1467, which requires all books to be free of pornography, harmless to minors, age appropriate and suited to meet students’ needs. 

However, all books in each school’s media center in the School District of Manatee County already had been vetted.

Laurie Breslin, the executive director of curriculum for the district, said that of the more than 250,000 books in school libraries across the district, approximately 10 were put under reconsideration for approval before a student could read them. 

Chad Choate, a member of the School Board of Manatee County, said that the issue of inappropriate material being in schools is not a major districtwide problem.

“There have been teachers around the country who are, in my personal opinion, doing things wrong or have inappropriate material in front of kids’ faces, and the reaction from the Legislature, governors and people is that isn’t going to happen in our schools,” Choate said. “I don’t think we have rampant issues in Manatee County. We can disagree or agree with what the law says, but that doesn't matter. It is what it is. Now we have to put in the right procedures or policies in place to abide by those and hopefully protect our teachers so they don’t get in trouble.”

William H. Bashaw Elementary School kindergartner Jay Dan Roux uses his finger to keep track of where he is in his reading. All elementary schools will have a list of books students have access to posted on the school's website.
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What's next

After HB 1467 went into effect July 1, 2022, the state provided further guidance. The definition of a school library now includes "classroom libraries" or books that teachers have brought into their classroom on their own.

As a result, media specialists have been diving into the books that teachers have brought into their classrooms. Teachers had been asked to cover the books that had not been vetted to avoid the third-degree felony charge that could come as a punishment for violating the law.

Cynthia Saunders, the superintendent of the School District of Manatee County, apologized for a miscommunication during a School Board of Manatee County workshop Jan. 27. She had told teachers they needed to cover up all books in their classroom until they were vetted. Instead, any book already vetted by the district did not need to be covered and could be used.

The district and schools are inviting volunteers into the schools to help with the ongoing vetting process, such as checking books to see if they are on the district’s approved list and setting aside those that aren’t so they can be properly vetted.

Once a book is approved at one school, it is approved across the district, unless media specialists at different schools differ on whether the book should be approved.

In that case, Saunders said the book would then go to the school board for review. 

Choate asked if the district is not responsible for books that students bring into school from home. Breslin confirmed to Choate that those books will not be taken away from the student as, in effect, the parent has given permission for the student to bring the book to school. 

The district is taking inventory of all the books in its schools and compiling a directory that is posted on the district’s website.

The law requires a book directory for every elementary school to be posted on each elementary school’s website so parents can easily see what students have access to at that school. 

Kathy Kersey, a Myakka City Elementary School STEM teacher, reads "Crawly Bug and the Firehouse Pie" to a group of families. All books in media centers across the School District of Manatee County have been vetted and approved.
File photo

Time to reconsider

If a parent has concerns regarding a book in school, the parent can work with the school to address it informally. If the issue cannot be resolved, a parent can file a complaint regarding a book and have the book’s approval reconsidered.

The request for a reconsideration form requires the complainant name, the author and title of the book, as well as what type of material the book includes, what the complainant objects to using specific examples, and what the complainant would like the school or district to do about the book, such as removing it from all school media centers or requiring parental consent before students can access the book.

The School Board of Manatee County will vote on the process for reconsideration at its Feb. 14 board meeting.

The proposed reconsideration process would have the media specialist at the school be informed there is a request for reconsideration and review the book. The media specialist would consult with the school principal, who ultimately is responsible for the books on its campus and could differ in opinion from the media specialist, though Breslin doesn’t foresee there being much disagreement as the media specialists were specifically trained to vet books.

A school would have 30 days to report its decision to the district.

If a parent disagrees with the school’s decision in the proposed reconsideration process, the book then would be referred to the school board for review. 

The board would review the challenged books or materials, review the request for reconsideration, and determine the extent to which the book meets the book selection criteria that was defined in the Florida Department of Education training for media specialists.

Choate and school board member Mary Foreman said they would also like to review and take into consideration the recommendation from the media specialist as they are the ones who were trained to vet the books. 

Once the board makes a decision, a report will be sent to the complainant within 30 days of the board convening on the matter. 

While books are being vetted or are in the process for reconsideration, the books will remain in the school or classroom library, but students must have their parents sign a parental consent form in order for them to have access to the book. 

As of Jan. 27, there are 30 books the school board must review once the board votes on the request for reconsideration process. 

A majority of the 30 books the school board must review are for high school students with some also being considered at the middle school level.



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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