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Florida school district orders librarians to purge all books with LGBTQ characters Judd Legum

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Librarians in public schools in Charlotte County, Florida, were instructed by the school district superintendent to remove all books with LGBTQ characters or themes from school and classroom libraries. 

Charlotte County school librarians sought guidance from the school district about how to apply an expansion of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, to all grades. “Are we removing books from any school or media center, Prek-12 if a character has, for example, two mothers or because there is a gay best friend or a main character is gay?” the librarians asked. Charlotte County Superintendent Mark Vianello answered, “Yes.” 

The guidance by Vianello and the school board’s attorney, Michael McKinley, was obtained by the Florida Freedom to Read Project (FFTRP) through a public records request and shared with Popular Information. FFTRP requested “electronic records of district and school decisions regarding classroom and library materials.” In response, FFTRP received a document memorializing a July 24 conversation between Vianello and district librarians, known in Florida as media specialists. 

The guidance made clear that all books with LGBTQ characters are to be removed even if the book contained no sexually explicit content. The librarians asked if they could retain books in school and classroom libraries with LGBTQ characters “as long as they do not have explicit sex scenes or sexual descriptions and are not approaching ‘how to’ manuals for how to be an LGBTQ+ person.” Vianello responded, “No. Books with LBGTQ+ characters are not to be included in classroom libraries or school library media centers.”

Vianello also says teachers must ensure that books with LGBTQ characters and themes do not enter the classroom, even if they are self-selected by students for silent reading. According to Vianello, books with “[t]hese characters and themes cannot exist.” 

The librarians were seeking guidance on how to interpret a revised version of The Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida. The revised rules, issued by the Florida Department of Education earlier this year, expanded the restrictions imposed by the”Don’t Say Gay” law. According to revised Rule 6A-10.081, educators in Florida “[s]hall not intentionally provide classroom instruction to students in prekindergarten through grade 8 on sexual orientation or gender identity.” (A similar provision was included in a law Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed in May.) The revised rule also extends that prohibition through grade 12, except where explicitly required by state standards or as part of “a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend.”

Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has insisted that allegations that his policies, including the “Don’t Say Gay” law, are being used to ban a wide range of books is a “hoax.” DeSantis claimed that the only books being removed from Florida libraries are “pornographic and inappropriate materials that have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards.” But in Charlotte County, DeSantis’ policies are being used to justify purging all books with LGBTQ characters, even if there is no sexual content.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Charlotte County Schools told Popular Information that books with LGBTQ characters were removed from libraries because “there are elementary schools that utilize their school library media center as classrooms… [for] elective courses that our students are officially scheduled into and attend on a regular basis.” Therefore, the library “is considered a classroom setting.” As a result, “our school board attorney advises that we do not make books with these themes available in media centers that serve as classrooms since this would be considered ‘classroom instruction’ and such instruction and/or availability of these themes may not occur in PreK- grade 8.” The spokesperson acknowledged that “high school media centers are not designated as classrooms,” but books with LGBTQ characters were excluded anyway because “if a teacher were to bring a class of students to the media center and provide instruction, books with these themes cannot be included in that instructional time unless supported by the academic standards of that course of study.”

The problem with banning all books with LGBTQ characters

There are serious legal issues with banning all books with LGBTQ characters.

In June, the authors of the children’s book And Tango Makes Three, and several students sued the Lake County School Board, the Florida Department of Education, and other state officials for removing the book from K-3 library shelves. And Tango Makes Three is the true story of two male Penguins, Roy and Silo, who lived in the Central Park Zoo and raised an adopted chick. It has no sexual content. The lawsuit contends that the removal of And Tango Makes Three violates student rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and by “discriminating based on content and viewpoint, it infringes the authors’ right to freedom of expression.” 

In response, the Lake County School Board filed an affidavit on July 13, 2023, from its superintendent, Diane Kornegay. She stated that, on June 21, 2023, she received guidance from the Florida Department of Education that the “age restriction on sexual orientation and gender identity does not apply to library books.” The guidance included a legal memorandum by the Florida Attorney General filed in a separate case challenging the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which contends that the law “does not even arguably restrict library books.” 

As a result, And Tango Makes Three was returned to the shelves in Lake County. 

The Florida Department of Education has been repeatedly asked to clarify the application of “Don’t Say Gay” and other laws and regulations restricting LGBTQ instruction to library books. But it has refused to do so, despite the urging of FFTRP and others. 

“Every child deserves to have their lives reflected in the books available in their public school classroom or library,” Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the FFTRP told Popular Information. “The Florida Department of Education was informed of Charlotte County’s overreaction to the law and state rule over two weeks ago, and has not acted to correct it. Public school families in Florida deserve better. We cannot tolerate this discriminatory exclusion.”

The result of the Department of Education’s inaction has been chaos. And Tango Makes Three remains banned in Escambia County and elsewhere. While Charlotte County is the only school district known to have a formal ban on all books with LGBTQ characters, other Florida school districts have the same policy in practice

In the Broward County School District, the sixth-largest school district in the country, nearly half of the books that have been removed or restricted feature LGBTQ themes. One of the books banned from all school libraries is the children’s book A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a fictional story about former Vice President Mike Pence’s family bunny. In the story, Marlon Bundo falls in love with another bunny named Wesley, and the two decide to get married. The book does not contain any sexual or explicit content whatsoever. The Broward County School District ordered that all school libraries remove Bundo, because it contained “gender identity content.” 

The Broward County School District told Popular Information that it was aware of the state’s position in the Lake County lawsuit. But, as of last month, Bundo remained unavailable in Broward County schools. 

A survey of Florida school districts by Popular Information revealed that at least 16 school districts in Florida have banned books with LGBTQ characters.

 

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June 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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My First Job, at the Stanford Internet Observatory Julia Steinberg

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Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised I’d “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time,” writes Julia Steinberg. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

The Stanford Internet Observatory—a research center tasked with rooting out “misinformation” on social media—is shutting its doors. Chances are if you’ve heard of the SIO it was in a scathing piece from Michael Shellenberger or Matt Taibbi, who have accused the center of being a key node in the censorship-industrial complex.

It was also my first employer. Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised to “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time, to develop a novel curriculum on trust and safety that is a first in computer science, and to translate our research discoveries into training and policy innovations for the public good.” To me, that meant ending internet abuse like the glamorization of anorexia on social media or financial scams that steal billions every year. But mostly I worked on the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), which SIO ran during the 2020 and 2022 elections. The purpose of that project was to identify so-called “fake news” spreading on social media. 

In actuality, SIO hired a load of interns to scan social media for posts deemed to be mis- and disinformation. It turns out that the posts we students flagged were often sent along to moderators at Twitter (now X), Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, which took them down in order to quash dissenting viewpoints—viewpoints that sometimes ended up being right, as in the case of Covid likely being the result of a lab leak, or Hunter Biden’s hard drive being his actual hard drive—not Russian disinformation. 

Thanks to the work of independent journalists, the SIO’s work has come under a lot of scrutiny, including in Washington. A recent House Judiciary Committee report alleges that, by cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security, the SIO’s Election Integrity Partnership “provided a way for the federal government to launder its censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.” 

The SIO has stated that “Stanford has not shut down or dismantled SIO as a result of outside pressure. SIO does, however, face funding challenges as its founding grants will soon be exhausted.” But on June 13, Platformer reported that much of SIO’s staff was on the way out: “Its founding director, Alex Stamos, left his position in November. Renee DiResta, its research director, left last week after her contract was not renewed. One other staff member’s contract expired this month, while others have been told to look for jobs elsewhere, sources say.”

The Supreme Court will soon rule on a case, Murthy v. Missouri, that addresses whether the U.S. government should be able to collaborate with social media companies to censor commentary. The plaintiffs, in their brief, lambast SIO for its role in abetting government censorship. We’ll be watching that case closely.

Julia Steinberg is an intern at The Free Press. Read her piece on the college dropout who unlocked the secrets of ancient Rome using AI. And follow her on X @Juliaonatroika.

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My Promise to Palestine Chris Hedges

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When I accepted the Tafik Diab Prize for my writing on the genocide in Gaza in Cairo on June 10 I explained why the cartoonist Joe Sacco and I are planning to do our next book together on Gaza.

Written speech:

I would like to start with a story that happened to me in Gaza on October 5, 2000. One day I was working on a report at Natzarim (Jewish settlement). There were Palestinian boys near me. The boys threw rocks towards the Israeli army. A soldier shot one of the boys — and the boy died. Four boys each lifted up a limb and we ran. The incident aftected me to such an extent that I did not shave for three weeks. After three weeks, I went to visit the boy’s house to meet his family. I told his mother I was with her son when he was killed. The mother told me that when her younger son heard that his brother had been killed he went into the kitchen, and then he left the house. After ten minutes she asked her husband where her son had gone. They went out to look for him and saw him in the street with a knife in his hand.

She asked him, “Where are you going?”

He answered, “I am going to kill Jews.” I have never been able to forget that child. I often wonder where he is. He would be a man in his thirties now. Is he still alive? Married? Does he have children? Are he and his family frightened of the bombing? Where have they taken refuge? God willing, I will write a book on Gaza with the cartoonist Joe Sacco, the author of “Palestine” and “Footnotes in Gaza.” During that time I will look for him, I will complete his story and the stories of many others. Israel is determined to erase them from existence and from history. This is my promise.

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