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Central Florida school board members respond to book ban challenge limits

The bill headed to Governor DeSantis will limit the number of challenges certain residents in a district can make.
The bill headed to Governor DeSantis will limit the number of challenges certain residents in a district can make.

A bill limiting the number of school book challenges that can be made by residents who don’t have children in a school district now heads to the governor for signing.

Under the bill, residents who don’t have children in a district are limited to one book challenge a month.

The governor called on legislators last month to reform the state’s policies on book bans after classics like “To Kill A Mockingbird” were contested at school boards.

Orange County School Board member Karen Castor Dentel said the new legislation won’t help teachers and librarians as the law about book challenges is still too vague.

“What we have, really, is unclear guidance from the state of what constitutes inappropriate content. And media specialists have been trained, the official training tells them to err on the side of caution,” said Castor Dentel.

She said it’s that fear that resulted in almost 700 books being pulled from library shelves since HB 1069 passed in 2023.

“And so you end up having this culture of fear because they don't want to risk losing their jobs or their certification,” said Castor Dentel

Brevard County School Board member Katye Campbell said the new rule might unfairly limit some citizens from participating in the process, including taxpayers in the county who should have a say in public education.

“There's lots of reasons why someone might want to get involved in this process of challenging books, [for] some people this is just their passion and they've seen certain titles certain subjects just really get into school libraries unchecked in previous years and so they just have a passion about this and they're vigilant about trying to protect students, whether it's their children or not,” said Campbell.

Campbell said she’s also worried about whether family members of children in the district will be shut out of the process.

“But then you also have people who it's their grandchildren or an aunt or uncle,” said Campbell. “The tax[payer] dollar part is really important because there are processes for even textbooks [that] are open by law,” said Campbell.

Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins said she wishes the law making it easier to challenge books could simply be repealed. But she said knowing this probably won’t happen, she’s worried that this rule and others that follow simply are too little too late.

“This rule doesn't do anything to prevent some of the egregious things that we've had happen such as our very own school board member dropping a list of 300 books and trying to make a motion for those all to be removed in one night,” said Jenkins.

She hopes the focus in education could be on other things rather than on reviewing books.

“Just stop the culture war nonsense, stop pretending that books inside of our schools do harm to our children,” said Jenkins.

Orange County School Board member Alicia Farrant said the law is important to keep kids safe. She said as a conservative mom of five, she wants there to be safeguards in place when it comes to what her kids read in schools.

“I believe that we are heading in the right direction. There's still a long ways to go, I believe. [But] it ensures that our kids truly are protected from this, from being inundated with sexual content in these books,” said Farrant.

However, she said the book challenge process can sometimes feel like she’s playing an extended game of whac-a-mole. She said she sometimes wishes there was a way to streamline the process like the rating system used for movies.

“But honestly, I would like to see a bill that goes forth to ensure that the books are now covered by a rating system the same way that our movies or TV or radio all has a rating system. And so I think books need to come to that, unfortunately, because we have people who want to slip sexual content into these books,” said Farrant.

A previous version of the bill, that would have fined people $100 dollars for an unnecessary challenge was not adopted in either body of the legislature.

If approved, the law will go into effect July 1, 2024.

Here's the bill that's headed to the governor's desk:

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.
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