Ron DeSantis finally admits that Florida book bans went too far

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Ron DeSantis conceded this week that Florida may have gone too far with efforts to ban books, some two years after he signed a law that led to school districts removing hundreds of titles.

The Florida governor passed a “curriculum transparency” law in 2022 that required schools to ensure their books were “free of pornography and prohibited materials harmful to minors”.

It allowed any state resident to challenge the books available to students, which led to school districts emptying bookshelves to address the huge number of challenges, and avoid teachers facing felony charges if found to be in breach of the rules.

Now, in a significant turnaround, Mr DeSantis has signed a new bill to limit the number of challenges that Florida residents without children can make to one per month.

“You have some people who are taking the curriculum transparency, and they are trying to weaponise that for political purposes,” he said at an event in Jacksonville, Florida on Tuesday. “That involves objecting to normal books, like some of the books that I saw in the teacher’s lounge, these classic books.”

Mr DeSantis has reacted angrily in the past to any suggestion that his law constituted a ban on books, calling it a “media hoax”.

However, teachers and school leaders said the vagueness of the law led to mass removals of books across the state. A report released this week by PEN America found that Florida led the country in book bans for the first half of the current school year, with 3,135 bans across 11 school districts.

The 2022 law was part of a wave of legislation championed by Mr DeSantis that aimed to exert greater control of public school education through the restriction of books, lessons and speech that he deemed objectionable.

Critics have argued that the law, coupled with similar actions taken by Mr DeSantis, targeted the LGBTQ community, prohibited discussion about Black history and diversity, and was fuelled by right-wing activists with an anti-LGBTQ agenda.

He passed the “Parental Rights in Education” law in 2021, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay“ law by critics, which prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels” in Florida’s primary schools, according to the preamble. That was followed by the ‘Stop WOKE’ law, which restricts how colleges and universities teach classes on race and gender. Mr DeSantis also blocked a Black history course for high schoolers.

The laws coincided with the governor’s ill-fated run for the Republican presidential nomination, when he was intensely focused on making national headlines to boost his campaign.

The efforts to ban books in Florida are part of a trend of conservative and Republican-led efforts across the country to ban books that contain themes they deem objectionable.

The Independent launched its “Banned Books“ campaign in 2023 to cover the legislation sweeping the country. 

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