(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law Friday that requires Florida school districts to be transparent in the selection of instructional materials, including library and reading materials.
As a part of the “Year of the Parent,” a commitment DeSantis has made to prioritize parental rights, DeSantis signed HB 1467, which includes several protections for parents, such as requiring school districts to allow parents to review all books in the school library, all required classroom book lists, and any instructional materials teachers use.
“In Florida, our parents have every right to be involved in their child’s education. We are not going to let politicians deny parents the right to know what is being taught in our schools. I’m proud to sign this legislation that ensures curriculum transparency,” DeSantis said.
“While teachers, school administrators, and school board members have a tremendous amount of authority over what and how our kids are taught in school, at the end of the day, parents – not schools – are responsible for raising children,” Senate President Wilton Simpson said. “Florida parents are seeking greater involvement in many aspects of our education system, and this legislation speaks to that effort. The books our kids are reading in schools need to have proper vetting.”
The new law also establishes a 12-year term limit for school board members. Adding term limits, House Speaker Chris Sprowls said, “helps to weaken any political motives and shifts the focus of school boards back to the best interests of our children, as it should be.”
The new law requires school districts convening for the purpose of selecting instructional materials to post meeting notices and make them open to the public. They must also provide access to all materials at least 20 days prior to the school board taking official action on instructional materials, according to the new law. The Department of Education will also be required to publish a list of materials that have been removed or discontinued by school boards as a result of an objection and disseminate the list to school districts for their consideration.
School district library media center materials and assigned school or grade-level reading lists must also be reviewed by a district employee holding a valid educational media specialist certificate and require the DOE to develop an online training program for librarians and media specialists. Additionally, the superintendent of schools in each district must certify to the DOE Commissioner that all school librarians and media center specialists have taken this training.
“I hadn’t been involved with the school board prior to COVID. It got us paying attention,” Rebecca Sarwi, a Volusia County parent, said. “Our first time showing up in person at the school board meeting, I, along with 6 other mothers, were trespassed from the location for a whole year due to not wearing a mask and they silenced our voice from public comment.
“It has been an eye-opening experience to the lengths that they would assert their power,” she added. “But since COVID restrictions made us acutely aware of the power behind the school board, we are now paying attention to their meetings, agendas and curriculum and so many other concerns were coming to the surface now that we are paying attention.”
Other parents expressed concerned about sexually explicit material in libraries and classroom reading lists.
“The Year of the Parent” comes after the U.S. Department of Justice last year announced it would be investigating parents who protest at school board meetings, potentially considering them domestic terrorists. The DOJ did so after the National School Boards Association sent a letter to the DOJ likening parents protesting the teaching of so-called critical race theory, mask mandates and other local school decisions to domestic terrorists and requested federal intervention.
The association, to which state school board associations pay dues, later apologized. But 26 state school board associations distanced themselves from it, including Florida’s.
Within months of the NSBA’s DOJ letter, the Florida Schools Boards Association unanimously voted to end its association with it over “concerns surrounding NSBA’s governance, leadership, transparency, and failure to embrace non-partisanship.”
However, the DOJ has not changed its stance, and 14 Republican attorneys general sued. Led by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, they want the DOJ to drop its directive to investigate parents and to respond to letters and Freedom of Information requests that multiple attorneys general submitted last year.
Last month, the Florida Legislature also passed a parental bill of rights that requires schools to teach children age-appropriate material. It also requires that parents be able to access their children’s records and involve them in the decisions about mental health and other services offered for their children. It also allows parents to sue schools over violations.