The school district superintendent of Charlotte County, Florida has ordered all books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters to be removed from district classrooms and libraries.
The order extends beyond instruction materials to books that students are allowed to bring into classrooms and libraries as well.
At the same time, students are leading the fight against book censorship, according to a new report from PEN America.
“These characters and themes cannot exist,” Superintendent Mark Vianello stated explicitly when asked about students’ “self-selected” reading materials by school librarians.
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Librarians were seeking guidance on how to interpret a revised version of The Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida, which has been rewritten in tandem with the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, formally known as the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act.
“Are we removing books from any school or media center, Pre-K -12 if a character has, for example, two mothers or because there is a gay best friend or a main character is gay?” one librarian asked Superintendent Vianello.
Vianello answered, “Yes.”
The guidance provided by Vianello and the Charlotte County school board’s attorney, Michael McKinley, was obtained by the Florida Freedom to Read Project (FFTRP) through a public records request and shared with Popular Information. The direction was contained in a July 24 communication.
The district librarians, known as “media specialists” in Florida, asked if they could retain books in school and classroom libraries with LGBTQ+ characters “as long as they do not have explicit sex scenes or sexual descriptions and are not approaching ‘how to’ manuals for how to be an LGBTQ+ person.”
“No,” Vianello responded. “Books with LBGTQ+ characters are not to be included in classroom libraries or school library media centers.”
DeSantis has characterized charges he’s trying to ban books as a “hoax”, and maintains the texts being removed from library and classroom shelves are “pornographic and inappropriate materials that have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards.”
The Florida Department of Education has provided conflicting guidance on how to implement the draconian Don’t Say Gay legislation.
In June, several students and the authors of the children’s book And Tango Makes Three sued the Lake County School Board, the Florida Department of Education, and other state officials for removing the book from K-3 library shelves. The book contains no sexual content.
The district superintendent said she received guidance from the Florida Department of Education that the “age restriction on sexual orientation and gender identity does not apply to library books.” The law purports only to cover classroom instruction.
But Charlotte County has interpreted Don’t Say Gay in such a way that libraries fall under the LGBTQ+ ban as well.
A spokesperson for Charlotte County Schools explained that books with LGBTQ+ characters were removed from libraries because “there are elementary schools that utilize their school library media center as classrooms.”
Libraries are “considered a classroom setting.”
The spokesperson added that “high school media centers are not designated as classrooms,” but books with LGBTQ+ characters were excluded anyway because “if a teacher were to bring a class of students to the media center and provide instruction, books with these themes cannot be included in that instructional time unless supported by the academic standards of that course of study.”