The administration of Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is using the state’s Department of Education to create a “parent workgroup” consisting of right-wing book-banning advocates. The workgroup will train public school librarians on how to follow censorship rules signed into law by DeSantis earlier this year.
An August 12 memo from Education Department senior chancellor Jacob Oliva gave local K-12 schools a week to nominate “parents of students” to participate in the workgroup. The workgroup will train school librarians on how to review book collections within individual teachers’ classrooms, a measure meant to keep potentially inclusive texts out of students’ hands.
In its search for workgroup members, the department reportedly “passed on nearly 100 potentially qualified applicants with relevant experience,” according to a records review conducted by The Daily Beast.
“In Brevard County alone, it ignored the five submissions made by the bipartisan local school board, including the nomination of a former elementary school assistant principal, the director of Eastern Florida State College’s tutoring centers, and the administrator of a local scholarship fund,” the aforementioned publication wrote.
Instead, the department chose a self-nominated individual named Michelle Beavers. Beavers heads the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a right-wing group that gained notoriety during the pandemic for attending and protesting school board meetings to oppose mask mandates and LGBTQ inclusivity in schools.
She herself advocated for Brevard County schools to ban the coming-of-age graphic novel This One Summer over its mention of lesbians and its crude teenage humor. She also supports revoking county school policies allowing parents to individually block their children’s access to library materials — Beavers prefers statewide bans on titles instead.
“These books violate the law, it’s a felony. So why would you try and still defend there [sic] existence by letting parents opt out?” she wrote to the Brevard County schools superintendent.
Moms for Liberty’s past exploits include offering bounties for people who turn in teachers who discuss “divisive topics,” attacking the Trevor Project for trying to prevent LGBTQ teen suicide, trying to get a book about seahorses banned for being too sexy, and saying that two girls briefly kissing at a school function is “lewd” and “traumatic.” The group also lobbied in Florida for the Don’t Say Gay bill and supports DeSantis’ efforts to ban so-called “critical race theory” (CRT) and teaching about institutional racism in schools.
The education department also accepted Jennifer Pippin into its workgroup. Pippin wasn’t nominated by a school district. Instead, she was nominated by Keith Flaugh, a childless conservative who founded Florida Citizens Alliance.
The Alliance has provided lists of “objectionable” school texts that they say promote Islam, socialism, sex, LGBTQ identity, evolutionary science, climate change, or gun control, MSNBC reported. Instead, the alliance champions “Judeo-Christian family values.”
At a recent virtual meeting for the workgroup, Pippin spent most of her time driving or sitting in her car, The Daily Beast noted. During the meeting, she commented, “I’m not a media center specialist,” and said that she didn’t understand the abbreviations being used in the materials that she’ll help curate.
The workgroup also included Jamie Merchant, a member of Mamas for DeSantis, a right-wing re-election group that was launched by DeSantis’ wife. The group’s goals include training parents to oppose CRT, gender ideology (the existence of trans people), and “social emotional learning” while also training candidates to take over local school boards.
The astroturfed group has received financing from two anti-LGBTQ conservative groups, the Heritage Foundation and Turning Point USA, Politico reported. It has been promoted by Moms for Liberty. On Mamas for DeSantis’ summer reading list, the group included a book called Crimes of the Educators, which called on citizens to end the American public school system.
The workgroup seems prepared to present two versions of its training for school librarians, according to Stephana Ferrell with the Florida Freedom to Read Project: “a sane version and one that caters to the crazies,” the aforementioned publication reported.
The Florida Freedom to Read Project said in a statement that the workgroup’s true purpose is to allow “conservative counties to determine what the rest of the state has access to.” The group also says that the state’s new censorship rules will give additional work and social pressure to an already overworked, underpaid, and increasingly hated community of devoted educators.