PUNTA GORDA, Florida–Gov. Ron DeSantis told a room full of people waving “Year of the Parent” signs in Daytona Beach that Florida is “doing education, not indoctrination” as he signed the Curriculum Transparency (HB 1467) bill into law on March 25. The law provides for transparency of instructional materials for school districts, sets term limits for school board members, and protects the rights of parents.
“We are going to make sure that parents have a seat at the table,” the Republican governor said of the bill that allows parents to see—and challenge—teachers’ instructional material, required reading lists, and books in school libraries. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
The legislation “aims to preserve the rights of parents to make decisions about what materials their children are exposed to in school.” he said.
“We believe parents not only have a role, but (they also) have a fundamental role to be involved in the education of their kids,” DeSantis said at the March 25 press conference. “That’s how it’s going to be in the state of Florida.”
DeSantis said that he “rejects those” who think parents should not be involved in their children’s education.
“Nobody is more invested in the proper well-being of kids than the parents themselves,” he said.
One part of the bill requires school districts to have open meetings when selecting instructional materials, and for a notice of the meeting to be made public. Twenty days prior to the school board taking any official action on instructional materials, it must provide public access. The Florida Department of Education is required to publish a list of objectionable materials that have been removed or discontinued by school boards, and send the lists out to all 41 of the school districts for consideration.
In addition, school district library media center materials and grade-level reading lists must be reviewed by a media specialist who holds a valid educational media specialist certificate. DOE will have to develop an online training program for librarians and media specialists, and the superintendent of each district must certify to the DOE commissioner that school librarians and media specialists have attended training sessions.
Democratic Florida House members had problems with the bill during a debate at the legislative session, where it was strongly opposed by Rep. Anna Eskamani and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
Eskamani said the proposal was an “attempt to ban books and silence the narratives of marginalized populations,” adding that these issues should be “kept local and the House should not co-opt it with a Parents’ Bill of Rights style solution.”
Rep. Smith said he had his “own struggles” to “see himself in any books available to him during his childhood in the 1990s.
“LGBTQ students need to be able to see themselves in books,” Smith said during the bill’s debate in February.
Both worried that “national pressure groups could use the bill as a way to erase “the very identities and existences of groups traditionally underrepresented.”
“Book banning does not happen in free states or free societies,” Smith warned.
Another part of the bill deals with school board term limits. The Florida House had originally sought an eight-year limit but settled for 12. The Senate changed the term limit to 12 years, sent it back to the House, where it was approved and sent along to the governor’s desk.
The governor also favored an eight-year term limit, but said it was a “step in the right direction” and “long overdue” because he doesn’t want to see school boards end up in “little swamps.” DeSantis went on to say he would like to see term limits applied to all levels of government, especially Congress.
“We need more states to do this–to push forward term limits for Congress would make a big difference,” he said. “I don’t see how you drain a swamp when you have people there for 30 or 40 years. It just doesn’t work that way–term limits have worked in Florida and, if we applied that to D.C., this country would be in much better shape.”
The bill addresses accountability, transparency, and empowering parents, DeSantis said.
“There’s no greater accountability than telling a politician your career ends dead certain at this point in time,” he said.
Two Florida mothers, Rebecca Sarwi of Volusia County and Alicia Farrant of Orange County, offered their views on the bill after their own experiences with school boards in their respective districts. Both said they were silenced at school board meetings while Sarwi and six others were “trespass warned” for a year for not wearing a mask to the meetings.
Sarwi said that COVID restrictions made her “acutely aware of the power behind the school board.”
“We are now paying attention to their meetings, agendas, and curriculum,” she told the crowd. “That’s why this legislation is so important–it ensures transparency in our children’s curriculum and building back trust, where it has been so terribly broken.”
Farrant agreed. She said her experience was with a “pornographic book” that her son brought home from the school library and which was later presented at a school board meeting where she was accompanied by her friend and reporter Jacob Engels, who is part of the LGBT community.
“Jacob read a segment of the book out loud during the meeting in order to make the community aware of the type of reading material our children are having access to,” she said. “He was abruptly removed from the meeting due to the graphic content of what he read to a room full of adults [from]a book that was made easily accessible to our children.”
Farrant also said that it is “appalling” that sexually explicit books have been a cause for debate.
“I believe every student and family matters. I also recognize that parents have a wide variety of beliefs and values—all deserve to be respected. I am an advocate for ensuring that the literature we provide our students is legal, appropriate, and worthy of being read out loud in a public forum of adults.”