JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Reports of empty classroom libraries and an extensive review of a book about hall-of-fame baseball player Roberto Clemente have put Duval County Public Schools in the hot seat with the Florida Department of Education.
The 40-page picture book has been prevented from going on library shelves for months, as the district reviews it to ensure it complies with new state curriculum laws.
“This is absurd,” said Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz in an exclusive interview with Action News Jax.
Diaz sent a letter to Duval’s School Superintendent Sunday, expressing concerns about empty classroom bookshelves and the lengthy review of the Clemente book.
“If true, this is unacceptable,” Diaz wrote in the letter.
Diaz expressed his frustration with the district’s slow review process.
“You’re telling me that we don’t have any professionals that can look at this 40-page book and say, this is appropriate for this age?” said Diaz.
Jonathan Friedman with PEN America pointed out, Duval isn’t alone when it comes to lengthy turnarounds for book reviews.
“Processes in some districts to review books that might take months, and in the meantime, students are just supposed to wait around for books to read,” said Friedman.
He said many districts, like Duval, seem to be taking an overly cautious approach when it comes to adhering to the state’s new curriculum laws out of fear.
“A sense that if they don’t take the most extreme measures to remove books, that they could put themselves into some kind of trouble,” said Friedman.
But Diaz told Action News Jax he believes Duval and other districts are intentionally implementing the new curriculum requirements in extreme ways to gin up controversy.
“I think, unfortunately, [districts] have used this to stage a lot of things for political messaging and they’ve put our teachers in a bad situation when it didn’t have to be that way,” said Diaz.
Action News Jax reached out to DCPS and asked whether the district will change its policies in light of the Commissioner’s letter and when it expects to complete its review of the Roberto Clemente book.
This was their statement:
As required by state law, we are in the process of having certified media specialists review all classroom library books.
“Hank Aaron’s Dream” by Matt Tavares and “Roberto Clemente” by Wil Mara has been reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, several advocacy blog sites are incorrectly stating these books were banned.
The books were not banned, but because they are books and because of Florida law, they required review by a certified media specialist before they could be released to classrooms.
There are approximately 1.6 million titles in our classroom and media center libraries that need to be reviewed by a certified media specialist.
We posted on this process a couple of weeks ago. You can learn more here:
More than 5,000 classroom library books have now been approved since the process began.”
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