DeSantis signs law limiting school library book challenges by nonparents

Orlando Sentinel | By Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida | April 16, 2024

TALLAHASSEE — After more than 1,200 objections were filed to library books and other materials last school year, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a bill to limit challenges by nonparents or guardians.

The wide-ranging bill (HB 1285) also includes changes designed to ease the process of charter schools taking over operations at traditional public schools that are failing.

The part of the measure dealing with book challenges came after the Republican-controlled Legislature and DeSantis approved measures that ramped up scrutiny of library books and classroom materials, leading to highly publicized disputes.

More than half of the 1,218 book objections during the 2022-2023 school year occurred in two counties, Clay and Escambia, according to a Senate staff analysis. The objections resulted in the removal of 186 books in the two counties.

The bill will require that any “resident of the county who is not the parent or guardian of a student with access to school district materials may not object to more than one material per month.”

During an event Monday, DeSantis said that some people who filed mass objections to books made a “mockery” of the process.

“The idea that someone can use the parents’ rights and the curriculum transparency to start objecting to every single book, to try to make a mockery of this, is wrong. And you had examples where books were put under review that are just normal books that have been in education for many, many years,” DeSantis said.

Meanwhile, parts of the bill related to underperforming public schools would “add some oomph” to the state’s process of allowing charter schools to take over operations, DeSantis said.

Under state law, if a school receives consecutive D or F grades based on various performance criteria, the school is given two years to improve to a C under what’s known as a “turnaround plan.” If the school’s grade doesn’t make such an improvement, one option is for the school to close and reopen as a charter school.

The bill signed Tuesday will speed up converting traditional public schools to charter schools under such circumstances, by giving districts a deadline to execute charter contracts. For schools reopening as charters, districts would have to execute contracts by Oct. 1 of the following school year, and charter organizations would assume “full operational control” by July.

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