Gov. DeSantis says some book challenges are legitimate, but ones from ‘bad actors’ are not
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 3/7/23-Gov. Ron DeSantis during a news conference, Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

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'This is all theater, this is all performative and it really has no place in our school system.'

Amid ongoing confusion about a state law more tightly regulating school library contents that he backed strenuously, Gov. Ron DeSantis is panning “phony narratives” about books being banned, claiming he’s working to “empower parents” with his administration’s curation of “inappropriate” books from schools that include “adult stuff.”

But not all book challenges are created equally, he added.

“I’m proud to be able to direct the Department of Education to take appropriate action, to deal with some of the bad actors who are intentionally depriving students of rightful education by politicizing this process,” DeSantis said, not immediately clarifying the action he wants taken.

The context for some of this may be found in places like Escambia County, which recently pulled 2,000 books for review, including dictionaries, the Guinness Book of World Records, and multiple volumes from Bill O’Reilly. An email from the Governor’s Office denounces moves to ban “books about Johnny Appleseed, The Giver and even the Bible.”

During a press conference in Orlando, DeSantis said books on Roberto Clemente and Anne Frank, as well as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Romeo and Juliet,” have always been taught.

“Parents in Florida have a right to send their kids to school knowing that they’re going to be educated but not indoctrinated. And so we’ve provided some very robust protections for the rights of parents to direct the education classrooms,” DeSantis said.

The Governor then turned his attention to challenges he sees as frivolous.

“You’ve seen people challenge the Bible. You’ve seen people challenge dictionaries. And oh my gosh, in Florida, you had a teacher, I think in the Bradenton area, that put paper over all the books,” DeSantis said.

He condemned the “fraudulent” practice as “trying to obscure the reason why parents have been concerned with the things that people saw which are clearly not appropriate and they’re basically trying to just confuse the issue to act like somehow that classic works are somehow not welcome.”

“So now what we’ve seen is you have seen activists that will go and just challenge almost anything that’s not appropriate to be happening. Hijacking this process is not something that we want to encourage in any way. And it’s been from different motivations,” DeSantis added.

Many teachers and school districts, meanwhile, have argued the new state laws are poorly defined, leading to confusion about what is allowed in schools and what isn’t.

DeSantis, though, claimed Thursday that some individuals are working to “create a narrative” that “these books are under review and then the media will take that run with it and try to act like that.”

“There’s some debate on whether Florida law requires this or not, which there’s not. So this is all theater, this is all performative and it really has no place in our school system.”

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said the “whole issue is about protecting kids and keeping this inappropriate material out of schools,” affirming DeSantis’ “leadership” in forming a “real process” for determining “what’s appropriate” in government schools.

“Today we’re here to set the record straight, and we’ll set the record straight for as long as it takes,” the Commissioner said, before going on to chide the media for being overly focused on “book banning.”

DeSantis offered more context on how his administration is “toying with a lot of things in terms of that process.”

“If you go to a school board meeting, objecting if you have a kid in school, OK. But if you’re somebody who doesn’t have a kid in school and you’re going to object to 100 books, no, I don’t think that that’s appropriate.”

“So I think the Legislature is interested in limiting what the number of challenges you can do and maybe making it be contingent on whether you actually have kids in school or not,” DeSantis said, before presenting pros and cons.

“On the one hand, I think that that does make sense. On the other hand, you know, people that don’t have kids in school pay taxes to support the school system so that citizens do have an interest in this. So I’m not sure you can say they can’t do it at all, but I think you can just limit it.”

He also suggested that “maybe after one or two frivolous objections, you have to pay a fine because you’re putting people to go through all this.”

Questions about curation of instructional materials and library books have recurred for months for DeSantis, including during his now-suspended presidential campaign.

During a January town hall in Hampton, New Hampshire, the 2024 Republican presidential candidate was confronted with remarks from an attendee, who said his sister had a friend who had to remove a Seuss book from a Florida library and thus would not vote for DeSantis.

The speaker didn’t mention which Seuss book was pulled, but it didn’t matter, as it compelled DeSantis again to defend the removal of texts from classrooms and libraries.

Answering the accusation, the Governor described “pornographic books that are in the schools” and how the state has “empowered parents to object to that and, and to have it removed because it’s just not right that that’s happening.”

PEN America, meanwhile, reported last year that Florida led the country in book bans. But they offered a nuanced, if irony-laden, read on the Governor’s comments Thursday.

“Governor DeSantis’ denial that Florida is banning books, and his shifting blame to local school boards and Floridians, is a blatant attempt to avoid responsibility for the significant and ongoing harm caused by statutes that he championed. But there is one thing we can agree on: book banning has gone too far, and limiting challenges is a good first step toward protecting Florida’s libraries,” said Katie Blankenship, Director of PEN America’s Florida office.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


17 comments

  • jean solomon

    February 15, 2024 at 11:29 am

    Good Grief!!! Desantis was against ‘this’ before he was ‘for’ it…i guess being a loser had totally addled him!! it might be a good idea for him just sit down and be quiet , does he know that the school is not the only place kids read/learn? they probably learn more from their phones and tv..and if a parent doesn’t like what their kid reads in school, it might be smart of them to explain to their kids why they disagree..@@

    22

  • Impeach Biden

    February 15, 2024 at 11:53 am

    I really think we need to have a good hard look at “A Land Remembered” and keep kids in Florida away from that filth.

    There are some obvious sexual references in the book regarding a scene that involves one of the main characters, Tobias MacIvey, and his wife. It’s HEAVILY implied that they have sex in their cracker cabin, and I we don’t need kids reading this. It’s practically p0rn.

    • Dont Say FLA

      February 15, 2024 at 12:06 pm

      Is there a very large population of orphans in Florida that I was not aware of? Most children have parents, and parenting is supposed to be handled by their parents. Why are all children being made wards of the state when it comes to book choice? It makes no sense at all.

      • Impeach Biden

        February 15, 2024 at 12:49 pm

        Are you some kind of weird pedo?
        Kids shouldn’t even be learning about sex until they are of legal age. I think 21 is appropriate.

        • Is that really Impeach Biden?

          February 15, 2024 at 1:13 pm

          This has got to be a joke.

          • Impeach Biden

            February 15, 2024 at 4:34 pm

            You”re a joke.

        • Bwj

          February 15, 2024 at 5:14 pm

          You don’t live in reality. 21? Seriously.

          • Impeach Biden

            February 16, 2024 at 11:32 am

            Actually, you’re right. People should not learn about sex until they’re legally married to somebody of the opposite gender. That’s the only time they should be having intercourse anyway. And only to make babies.
            Otherwise it’s a sin.

    • Biscuit

      February 15, 2024 at 12:13 pm

      “It’s HEAVILY implied that they have sex in their cracker cabin…”

      Out in an open field would be better, right? Doggie style.
      Arf.

    • American Patriot

      February 16, 2024 at 3:47 am

      Your refer to a book which makes reference to a couple having sexual relations as “filth”. This says more about you than you realize. I pity you. Only a seriously disturbed individual would think that a reference to sexual activity is synonymous with “filth”.

    • PATRICK D SMITH, jr.

      February 16, 2024 at 6:09 pm

      My father wrote A Land Remembered. It has been a cherished book for 40 years and is used in hundreds of schools. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won some of the highest awards for literature in Florida, including a place for my dad in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. At least before DeSantis and maybe still, there was a copy in every room of the governor’s mansion. Governor Rick Scott came to Dad’s house to personally deliver the Greatest Floridian award. I’ve been invited to speak at dozens of schools with great enthusiasm. Many schools ask for a return visit. Some hold A Land Remembered Days and the students dress as the characters and act out a play of the book. You should speak with some teachers who have said that it was the first book that got a student to read it from cover to cover.

    • PATRICK D SMITH, Jr

      February 16, 2024 at 6:12 pm

      My father wrote A Land Remembered. It has been a cherished book for 40 years and is used in hundreds of schools. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won some of the highest awards for literature in Florida, including a place for my dad in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. At least before DeSantis and maybe still, there was a copy in every room of the governor’s mansion. Governor Rick Scott came to Dad’s house to personally deliver the Greatest Floridian award. I’ve been invited to speak at dozens of schools with great enthusiasm. Many schools ask for a return visit. Some hold A Land Remembered Days and the students dress as the characters and act out a play of the book. You should speak with some teachers who have said that it was the first book that got a student to read it from cover to cover.

  • PeterH

    February 15, 2024 at 11:55 am

    At the governor’s direction, Florida’s Republican legislators wrote the extreme and broad-in-scope laws, Ashley Moody reviewed the legislation for constitutional clarity and YOU DeSantis signed it into law. The policing policies are your fault! Your responsibility!

    • Dont Say FLA

      February 15, 2024 at 12:08 pm

      Might need another Constitution amendment on the ballot. One that protects books from Government censorship.

  • TJC

    February 15, 2024 at 12:10 pm

    DeSantis’s “leadership” on the issue of what books are appropriate in schools included calling teachers and administrators “groomers” who were “indoctrinating” children in liberal thought via books. Now that he’s unleashed the crazies who see grooming and indoctrination in every book they supposedly read, he wants to rein them in. But in order to deflect any blame from himself, he cooks up a story about “bad actors” who are purposely banning dictionaries and the Bible in order to make the process look ridiculous, when in fact these are his people finding “bad words” in dictionaries and “sex” and “violence” in certain passages of the Bible. These are his peeps, and now they are embarrassing him. Poor Ron. He underestimated the zeal of his supporters.

  • Ban Winnie the Pooh

    February 15, 2024 at 4:35 pm

    He walks around wearing a shirt but no pants.
    How is this ok for our kids to see?

  • Good luck

    February 15, 2024 at 10:18 pm

    Maybe people are thinking about this all backwards. Everyone knows Florida is a major gap state when it comes to literacy. There are top achievers, and then everyone else. Major literacy issues. You know, back in the old days, kids wanted to read just so they could find the spicy scenes in D.H. Lawrence, or sneak around with Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, or hit the beatniks, all considered obscene in their respective days. Maybe if kids thought there was something they “weren’t supposed to be reading”, they’d accidentally read a classic, instead of looking up pornography on the internet, which you know is a big problem.
    Written by the kid of a teacher who got fired from a private “charter” school for teaching Romeo and Juliet to junior high schoolers (9th grade) because they called Shakespeare obscene. But hey, good luck to ya’lls kids competing nationally. Florida!

Comments are closed.


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