Florida educators and advocates are up in arms after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called news that books are being banned in Florida schools a “hoax.”
In remarks last week intended to spin the narrative in his favor, DeSantis accused the “mainstream media, unions and leftist activists” of propagating a “nasty hoax” about classroom libraries being left empty due to a law he passed last year seeking to address the non-issue of “pornography” in schools.
“It’s a hoax in service of trying to pollute and sexualize our children,” he said. “A lot of what’s been going on is an attempt to create a political narrative.”
For those who’ve dealt with the effects on the ground, DeSantis is the one spreading falsehoods.
“It’s complete gaslighting,” Marie Masferrer, a Hillsborough County Media Specialist who’s been campaigning against the law on the ground over the past year, told TPM. “The other thing that’s happening is teachers and librarians are censoring their own library themselves because they’re afraid. Fear is the point.”
Don Falls, a Manatee County social studies teacher who’s spoken out against the censorship, said that the government can still ban books even without explicitly saying so. “If you use your position of power to intimidate and threaten someone with the potential loss of employment, civil litigation and criminal charges,” he told TPM, “you successfully ban books without actually banning them.”
Jen Cousins, an organizer with the Florida Freedom to Read Project, pointed out that books like And Tango Makes Three, a book about two same-sex penguins in a relationship, and I Am Jazz, an autobiographical picture book about transgender activist Jazz Jennings, were also banned, despite containing no sexual content.
DeSantis’ latest attacks gaslighting centers on HB 1467, a law passed last year that requires school districts to review reading material available to students to weed out “certain materials”—i.e. what local right-wing activists consider pornographic content, which is often just reading materials that touch on LGBTQ issues. In Florida classrooms, the law has manifested in school districts removing all books from their libraries until they’ve been approved by a certified media specialist.
A training document from the state Department of Education for media specialists acquired by TPM stated that library books must be “free from pornography and materials harmful to minors” under a 2022 Florida statute—which threatens a third-degree felony.
More than a million books have been removed from classroom libraries across the state for dubious reasoning, and countless reports of empty bookshelves have flooded the local and state headlines. One substitute teacher was also reportedly fired for sharing a video of the bare bookshelves.
This, DeSantis claimed, is all just a hoax. “In Florida, pornographic and inappropriate materials that have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards.”
“He’s making clear what his agenda is,” Cousins said. By removing books with pro-LGBT themes under the guise of “pornography,” “they’ve proved what they were going after.”