Article Submitted By: Jamie Merchant March 31, 2023
On September 27, 2022, the Library Media and Instructional Materials workgroup under the Florida Department of Education met via Microsoft Teams for our first of many meetings to discuss the training we were to create in compliance with HB1467. We were shocked to see the lack of parental representation. Of the twelve workgroup members, four of us were parents, but only three of us understood Governor DeSantis’ education agenda and were active in our local counties fighting against the explicit content we have found in our children’s schools. The remaining nine were library media specialists.
This workgroup was designed to assist the Florida Department of Education in creating training that all library media specialists and instructional material reviewers will need to complete on a yearly basis in order to comply with the requirements of HB 1467.
The Library Media Specialist training focused on keeping materials free of pornography, suited to student needs and ability to comprehend materials, and appropriate to the grade level and age group for which materials are used or available. The Instructional Materials training focused on keeping materials free of pornography, suited to student needs and ability to comprehend, and must be accurate, objective, balanced, and non-inflammatory.
We were broken out into groups to work on specific tasks and create slideshows to include what we feel the training should look like. You would be surprised to know that while two moms, Jennifer Pippin and Michelle Beavers were preparing their slides on pornographic evidence, their emails were blocked by the government server due to containing pornography. We wondered, if there are protections in place for adults, why aren’t those same protections in place for children?
One of the most shocking moments occurred when Jennifer Pippin brought the book Gender Queer to the in-person meeting and showed the graphic novel’s explicit pictures of oral sex to the rest of the group. Michelle Beavers asked the group if we could find common ground and at minimum agree that this book should not be in our public school libraries. All nine said they would have to read the book cover to cover in order to form an opinion, but one librarian did say she was shocked to see that picture. A DOE lawyer was present to help with legal questions and was also asked if the picture was pornographic. She covered her eyes and said she couldn’t make a call like that and refused to look at the picture. Our trio argued for the actual penalties of the felony to be stated in the training, Over and over this was denied by the librarians stating that librarians were already afraid, and this would terrify them. The stark difference between the media specialists versus our group of three, in being able to discern what is appropriate for children, was clear. We were not going to be able to agree when it comes to what is appropriate.
At this point, we decided to send all of our original slides to the Commissioner of Education, his Chief of Staff, and other leadership within the DOE to grab their attention as the final project was not unanimously agreed upon and did not represent the thoughts of the parents who knew why we were really creating this training. This resulted in another face-to-face meeting in Tallahassee five days before Christmas, but we prevailed!
We argued for the definition of pornography since we are being asked to train librarians in how to decide what pornography looks like so they can keep it out of the library. This request was denied over and over until close to the end of the training when we sought legal counsel to argue that when something appears undefined legally, it is customary to use a reputable source like Webster’s. Our trio was able to get the idea to “err on the side of caution” in the training both verbally and written on the slides. We also argued successfully that the peer-reviewed sites used for looking up book reviews, as required per statute, should not be promoted as unbiased as the librarians suggested.
The workgroup finally came to an agreement on the training, and it became available to all school districts in the State of Florida on January 1, 2023. All library media specialists are required to take this course by July 1, 2023. We look forward to another opportunity to serve the Florida Department of Education in ensuring all children are protected from harmful materials without parental consent.