Bill on Gov. DeSantis’ desk would make it easier to object to school materials in Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It will soon be easier for Florida parents to object to educational materials like library books in public schools as a result of a bill the Governor is soon expected to sign

The bill will make those materials more readily accessible, but opponents argue it will lead to censorship.

Tiffany Justice, the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, argues parents are being cut out of the conversation when it comes to what educational materials their kids are being exposed to in schools.

“I think there were questions about the vetting processes that were in place,” said Justice.

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Justice called HB 1467, which is expected to be signed by the Governor soon, a direct response to those concerns.

“One of the things this bill does is it requires the district to establish a process by which a parent or resident of the county can contest the district school board’s adoption of a specific material,” said Justice.

The bill also increases the availability of materials in schools.

Currently, if a parent wants to obtain educational material in a school like a library book, they have to request it in writing, but the new legislation will require schools to make all of the materials readily available online.

Bill sponsor Representative Sam Garrison (R-Orange Park) said it’s all about transparency.

“To make sure that you have the same access to that information as you would in your public library,” said Garrison.

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But State Representative Angie Nixon (D-Jacksonville) worries the bill will lead to censorship, not only because the information and right to object isn’t limited to parents, but because of other bills passed this legislative session.

“Particularly with the recent passage of HB 7 where folks can sue the school system if they feel that something that’s being taught is making their child uncomfortable,” said Nixon.

Nixon fears the threat of lawsuits could pressure districts to ban books teaching Black history.

Garrison rejected that argument.

“We’re trying to provide board members with a structure by which to evaluate those complaints and make decisions that is rooted in law and not feelings and hopefully I think we’ve accomplished that goal,” said Garrison.

Andrea Messina, Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association told us districts don’t share the concerns of censorship, instead, they take issue with the fact the bill requires schools to hire a media specialist to handle many of the requirements in the bill.

Messina said many schools don’t have certified media specialists on staff, and the master’s degree position could be costly.

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“So now districts are going to have to scramble to find certified media specialists or get some of their current media specialists certified or put more people in those roles and this bill did not come with any additional funding to do that,” said Messina.

Because the bill requires the Department of Education to collect data on complaints filed and the action school board members take on those complaints, we’ll likely soon have a better idea of the real-world impacts of the legislation.

Those first reports will be due June 30th, 2023.

In addition to the transparency requirements, the legislation also imposes 12-year term limits on school board members.

Garrison said the goal of that provision is to ensure accountability.

“To make sure that we finally bring school boards into line with what we have with some of our other boards throughout the state. So, accountability and transparency,” said Garrison.

The term limits will apply to members starting their term after the 2022 election cycle and is set as a minimum, not a maximum.

Some jurisdictions like Duval County have term limits already in place shorter than the 12 years set out in the bill.

Those will not be impacted.