UNF education students worry for the future as DeSantis releases approved books list

Grae Barron, Reporter

Bookshelves are thinning in Duval County Public Schools in compliance with recent approved books lists from the state leaving some education students at the University of North Florida wondering if the field is changing for the worse.

In a press release last Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis denounced rumors of empty bookshelves, calling the claims a “leftist activists’ hoax.” 

DeSantis’ office released statements supporting their reasoning and explained that books with inappropriate material were found in 23 classrooms. Read the full release here.

Passed in March 2022, HB 1467 was part of the Year of the Parent initiative by the governor’s office. This law called for the cataloging of all instructional materials to ensure there is nothing containing pornographic material, gender identity discussions before the fourth grade and discrimination. 

Duval County Public Schools said, “all books in school libraries (including classroom collections for independent reading) must be reviewed.” Read the full statement here.

Karen Molnar, a parent of students in Jacksonville, said that she has seen options for parents to request books to be banned from public schools. 

“I know last year, the board rejected some books that parents wanted to ban,” she said. “Parents can put in a request to ban other books and there is a possibility for parents to say that they don’t want their kids to check out this book.”

FILE -The number of attempts to ban or restrict library resources in schools, universities and public libraries was on track to exceed record counts in 2021, the American Library Association reported eight months into 2022. “The unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience,” said ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

One of the biggest questions from viewers of a viral video of Duval’s empty bookshelves was, is this really happening? During a press conference, Gov. DeSantis called the video “a fake narrative.”

Belle Birtolo, a senior special education student at UNF, said that she spent a whole day removing books from the shelves in the classroom she works in for her internship. 

“I spent every second of planning that I had covering the bookshelves with bedsheets,” she said. “We had to sit there and take hundreds and hundreds of books and find them on this list. We had maybe 15 books that were able to be used.”

UNF has an extensive education program, requiring students to work in multiple classrooms throughout the years, allowing them to see the changes the new ruling has on public schools today. 

Students are concerned that the pushes for book banning are not only driving new teachers out of the career path but also damaging the children’s education. 

Birtolo said that the kids in the classrooms are confused and cannot even go into the library while the staff combs through each title. 

“These kids are going to grow up and not know how to read because they are not going to have access to enough literature,” she said.

Teaching has been viewed negatively in the last few years with the continuous passing of laws, and students are not looking forward to entering the field. 

“It really does take a special person to see everything going on and still want to go into this field,” Birtolo said.

The district is taking precautionary measures to comply with the new ruling. Covering or removing books is one way that teachers are staying safe as breaking the new law is considered a third-degree felony. 


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