State work group still in disagreement over makeup of school librarian training

Florida school library work group approaching Jan. 1 deadline

News4Jax | By Joe McLean | December 14, 2022

All public school librarians and media specialists in Florida will have to undergo state-approved training, starting Jan. 1. Yet that training is still being put together by a work group in Tallahassee.

That group’s most recent meeting was postponed, and it has some parents and free speech advocates concerned.

The group was supposed to meet on Tuesday, but that meeting was moved to Monday with no clear explanation. The meeting was also switched to in-person, with no virtual option, so most of the members can’t make it at that time. All this comes as the work group is struggling to come to a consensus, with the clock running out.

In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law House Bill 1467. It mandates that all school librarians and media specialists in public schools receive specialized online training on how to select materials for school libraries, starting Jan. 1. It also assembled a work group charged with developing that training — a process that has been underway for the last eight months.

Julie Dashiell, a member of the state school library work group, said there has been increasing disagreement over the final version of the training.

“I don’t know that there’s going to be consensus reached within the group on some of the remaining items,” Dashiell told News4JAX by phone. “It’s probably going to be up to the Department of Education to decide what goes in the final version of the training.”

With Tuesday’s meeting being rescheduled for Monday, Dashiell said, the only members who will likely be able to attend the in-person only meeting are members of conservative organizations that have strongly advocated for robust censorship of school library books and media.

Free speech organizations like PEN America want to avoid a specific set of parents — or a single political ideology — directing the library content for the rest of the public.

“This is a diverse democracy that we live in, and we have to find some way of reflecting that diversity in schools,” said Jonathan Friedman, with PEN America. “The way that we have done that is through our libraries, the ability for people to peruse through books, to read what interests them, to learn about a great variety of topics in public institutions.”

Irene Morse has two children in the St. Johns County School District and is part of their school’s library and media committee. She says parent involvement is vital, but it’s important for parents to only be involved with their children — not everyone else’s.

“So, your privilege is to do what you want for your family, what you see as best, and I don’t think that should be taken away,” Morse said. “But telling the rest of us what we should do with our family values with our ethics, now you’ve crossed the line.”

News4JAX also spoke with Reagan Miller, who is on the board of the Florida Freedom to Read Project.

“Some of these books could be lifesaving for kids, and I think that’s important to remember. They see themselves, they see their families, they see things in the world,” Miller said. “They’re not little robots that are just walking around doing what we think and say. They’re their own independent human beings with minds.”

News4JAX called, emailed and left messages for the state library media director, Amber Baumbach, and her office to ask about why the meeting was moved and what will happen if the work group fails to submit the training materials by Jan. 1 but had not received a response as of publication.

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