Orange County school media specialists navigate state book bans

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County School Board had a lengthy discussion about what some called a “burdensome process” that media specialists are going through to get certain books off the shelf that a new state law bans.


The school district said it is over halfway through reviewing books that they started going through this summer.

Since June, 215,012 titles have been reviewed, and the district has over 193,041 to go.

Of the 215,021 titles reviewed, the district pulled nearly 700 titles off teacher’s classroom shelves so the district could review them.

The nearly 700 titles include works by Shakespeare and popular titles like “Catch-22 and “Charlotte’s Web.”

Read: Nearly 700 books pulled from OCPS teachers’ classrooms

Orange County staff said some were on the list because of misspellings in titles or other human errors, but most were removed for review to follow state law that bans books with explicit sexual content or pornography.

Orange County staff and some board members said the law’s vagueness and the lack of direction of the state has complicated and drawn out the process.

“When we went to [Education] Commissioner Manny Diaz, he told us it was ‘common sense.’ It’s clearly not just common sense because we have teachers worried about third-degree felonies, and they are scared. We have media specialists that can lose their license and they are scared,” said vice-chair Angie Gallo, school board member for District 1.

Read: Brevard County School Board rejects proposal to ban hundreds of books

“Although we received guidance from the state and training from the state there was a great deal of angst amongst our media specialists, principles and staff that the guidance itself didn’t provide enough specificity,” said Superintendent Dr. Maria Vazques.

But District 3 School Board Member Alicia Farrant said the law and state guidance is straight forward.

“With the state, when they’re constantly saying it’s common sense. It truly is common sense, I’m finding common sense is not very common any more,” Farrant said.

Orange County staff says its revised its process to help streamline it.

Read: Florida AG argues public school libraries are forum for government, not private speech

But the process is still so time consuming that board members discussed bringing in artificial intelligence or a book rating system to help.

But staff says each book must be reviewed individually, some up to four times before deciding whether to return it to the shelves or permanently remove it.

“But there are so many on that list and I’m still so concerned that our kids don’t have access to these awesome titles. And that is still a form of banning books,” said District 6 Board Member Karen Castor Dentel.

This is as Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said booking banning is a hoax. Farrant agreed with DeSantis.

“So curating content is what we’re doing. So we are weeding material based on the age,” Farrant told Channel 9.

Read: Residents concerned that upcoming Daytona Beach book fair could offer banned books

Farrant has filed five of the 11 book challenges the school district has received.

She was by the Governor’s side when he signed the bill into law.

She agreed with the Governor’s point that the law may need tweaking.

She even said some book challenges and the volume of challenges in other districts have gotten out of control.

“I think there are other districts that have had people coming in trying to remove the dictionary and great quality books. And honestly, I think anyone who is trying to do that and attempting to sort of sabotage this movement by parents is just creating political propaganda,” Farrant said.

The board members also discussed making the process more transparent. Many suggested publishing a list online so the public will know which books have been removed for review.

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