Legislative ‘war on woke’ materializes into new school rules — and confusion

Books AP
As parents describe missing classroom libraries, state officials call it a 'gross mischaracterization.'

Gov. Ron DeSantis efforts to transform the state’s classrooms barely got mentioned at the first GOP presidential debate of the cycle. But it dominated discussion for much of the state Board of Education meeting just a few hours earlier.

As members adopted rules for putting approved legislation into practice, fireworks flew between state education officials and those who object to measures they feel are making classrooms ground zero for culture wars and stifling learning.

The State Board of Education Wednesday approved the procedure for calling in a special magistrate when individuals challenging classroom materials are not satisfied with the outcome. They also instituted new standards of behavior for teachers and established disciplinary procedures for those who don’t use the bathroom that corresponds with their sex assigned at birth at the state’s higher education institutions and private schools.

The rule-making is usually considered a formality after the drama of legislating is done, but this week’s meeting featured an outpouring of concerns that echoed legislative debate months earlier.

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of Florida Freedom to Read Project, said ultimately, the state is going to end up with lower achievement due to the way it’s restricting materials and instituting rules.

Neither of her two elementary-age children have classroom libraries, for example. And that’s going to make it more difficult for teachers to figure out which children are not reading on grade level.

Rules adopted last year have required that these once-informal libraries that teachers commonly assembled out of yard sales and donations must undergo school district review for appropriateness. Reports suggest that some teachers don’t want to deal with the hassle.

“You have rules that are working against our teachers, against our kids and against our classrooms and I hope that you do consider that,” Ferrell said.

State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. says that Florida is leading the way in myriad ways.

“We will continue to fight and protect our students and their innocence,” he said in his introductory comments at Wednesday’s meeting in Collier County. His words echoed the Governor’s agenda, as DeSantis has put School Board elections and classroom issues the center of the state’s political discussion.

Speakers complained, though, that it appears that the rule seems to make it so that the special magistrate is available only to those who want material removed from school libraries, not to those parents who object to materials being removed.

The law calls for a special magistrate to judge

“I don’t feel like my rights as a parent are being protected in the slightest,” said Anjali Vasquez, who identified herself as the mother of a middle schooler. “If anything, I feel like they are being eroded. … Never in my life have I heard so much opposition to literacy and literary materials as a threat to education.”

But K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Paul Burns called any perception that school libraries are being emptied is a “gross mischaracterization.”

Ben Gibson, Chair of the state Board of Education, said the special magistrate will not so much be concerned with whether a book contains objectionable material, but whether the school district followed the correct procedure in implementing a policy regarding objections to library materials.

“It’s (about) do they have a policy in place? And do they follow the policy?” Gibson said about when a magistrate will be called in.

But that was not how Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former Orlando-area Democratic Representative now running for state Senate, said he understands the rule will do.

“This process here is about skewing the process and limiting it only to the book banners, on to those who want to see books censored and pulled from the shelves,” said Smith, representing Equality Florida as a senior policy advisor, at the state Education Board meeting.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • TJC

    August 24, 2023 at 4:02 pm

    They say one way to keep’m on the farm is to make sure they don’t see the bright lights of the city. And Republican leaders in Florida seem to want to keep our children unenlightened, undereducated, uninformed, and unchallenged. Protecting innocence has nothing to do with it. Keeping them fearful and dumb enough to grow up to vote Republican, skip college, and take low-paying jobs in the Florida tourism industry, that’s the goal. Florida kids don’t need no stinking’ books!

    • Rick Whitaker

      September 3, 2023 at 12:59 am

      desantistan is a hell hole. the good people should try to get out if they can. i left desantistan in 1968 and haven’t been back since. i could go on and on about how bad it is

  • My Take

    August 24, 2023 at 4:44 pm

    I wonder how these rules compare to those rules or practices in Cuban classrooms. Or Iranian.

  • Pat O’Connor

    August 24, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    It’s terrible what the Republicans are doing to education in Florida. They talk big about “parental rights” but the only parental rights that are being protected are those of the parents who think like they do. If parents want their children to be able to choose the books they want to read, learn about factual history, have empathy, they are out of luck. As are parents of transgender, gay, and black kids. It makes me sick

    • Rick Whitaker

      September 3, 2023 at 1:00 am

      leave florida, other states are much nicer

  • tom palmer

    August 24, 2023 at 5:19 pm

    ….and Winston wept because he finally loved Big Brother.

  • Bill Pollard

    August 24, 2023 at 7:14 pm

    I’m happy my child is now grown and done with college in this state. Education here has become a really bad joke.

  • Sonja Fitch

    August 30, 2023 at 5:23 am

    If it is for the Common Good , the current GOP is against it. Desantis is the leader here in Florida on racist, sexist rhetoric and policies!

  • Joe

    August 30, 2023 at 3:41 pm

    Manny Diaz is a moron and a spineless sycophant, and all of Florida’s schools are worse off for his tenure as Education Commissioner.

Comments are closed.


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