Parental rights gives parents new tool to nix school library entirely

Florida Politics | By Anne Geggis | January 26, 2023

House committee hears how new legislation has given parents new ways to control library materials.

A new tool that allows parents to keep inappropriate books out of their children’s hands has a small segment of parents opting out of their child’s entire school library, according to testimony to a House subcommittee.

All told, though, less than 1% of parents have flexed their new ability to opt out of the books their children are exposed to at school in one district’s pilot effort.

Giving parents more control over their children’s education has been a key focus for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration. The House Education Quality Subcommittee got a firsthand look at one district’s tool that is among the first in the state to debut.

Legislation passed last year (HB 1467) calls for all elementary schools to publish on its website in a searchable format all materials maintained in the library or required as part of the school or grade-level reading list.

Polk County Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid walked the committee through an online platform his district started using this school year designed so parents can flag books they find objectionable and keep out of their child’s hands. It has filters that allow parents to search by keyword in a title or a specific author.

“Some of those families opted their children out of the entire media collection.” Heid said. “They literally went in and almost eliminated the entire catalog for those students.”

The number opting out accounts for a tiny percentage of Polk County’s 96,000 public school students. Out of the school population, 165 families used the opt-out system.

Republican Rep. Alex Rizo of Miami-Dade County wanted to know why more weren’t engaging with the platform that Heid said cost the school district about $25,000 to implement.

“Has anyone done this at any of the schools or the district level to see if parents that aren’t opting out actually know that this (tool) exists?” Rizo said.

Heid said there has been a lot of publicity about the new tool on TV, radio and other media outlets. It’s a good question he doesn’t have the answer to, Heid told Rizo.

“We’ll have to reflect on that and figure out how to incorporate that because the last thing we want is an uniformed parent group,” Heid added.

Of those that have opted out of the entire media catalog, his staff reached out to them to make sure they understood the process.

“Two families were adamant,” he said. “They didn’t want them to have access to anything. We are working with those families because obviously literacy is imperative and we want them to have materials so we can work with them.”

The exchange had Democratic Rep. Joe Casello of Palm Beach County incredulous.

“Ban the whole library? Where do you go from there?” he said.

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