Photo of a shocking closed classroom library: who chooses the books?

The photo I saw on Facebook looked so disturbing and shocking that at first I doubted it was real.

Was there really a classroom, anywhere not least in Indian River County, where the spines of the books faced the wall, the pink tape formed an X to keep students out and signs said “THE LIBRARY IS CLOSED”?

It took a while to reach Angela Love, a Vero Beach woman who confirmed she took the photo Wednesday during orientation at Storm Grove Middle School and posted it to her social media account.

“The teacher didn’t call attention to it,” said Love, who asked the educator about it.

Love said the teacher, whom she declined to name, explained how she feared getting in trouble for having books on the shelves that some parents might consider controversial.

“She was a little in tears saying it,” Love told me.

Having attended many school board meetings over the past year, including one the other day where members discussed increasing state restrictions on books, I understand the point of teacher’s view.

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Districts await state guidelines

“Quite frankly, the teachers are scared,” said Jennifer Freeland, president of the Indian River County Education Association, who along with district officials knew the Storm Grove classroom.

While Freeland said teachers follow state law and don’t offer inappropriate books — not pornographic, age-inappropriate, or containing critical race theory — to their classrooms, educators are not not lawyers and should not have to interpret state law. After all, if they even inadvertently break state law, they could lose their teaching licenses, what they love to do, and their livelihood.

And, as Indian River County Schools Superintendent David Moore noted at a school board meeting Monday, Florida districts are awaiting state guidance — which may not arrive until October. or until January – on what exactly “age-appropriate” means.

As we learned last year, people have differing opinions about what is acceptable.

For example, a child book about a young boy learning to play baseball in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II might have been as offensive to some people as a graphic novel illustrating a sexual encounter.

To protect themselves and inform teachers, the school district, in conjunction with the union, sent teachers a memo outlining classroom library expectations.

The district gave teachers the option of not having a classroom library. Or, if they had one, they would have to do a “careful examination”. Books that may not comply with state law, including some passed earlier this year, may be turned over to librarians for review or retention. If the potentially objectionable books were not the property of the school district, they should be removed from campus.

This is a new reality in Florida. After all, proponents of additional state regulations claim that teachers “indoctrinate” students, who have access to inappropriate content.

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Students at Storm Grove Middle School returned to in-person classes on Tuesday, August 10, 2021 for the first day of school in Indian River County.  Due to the ongoing pandemic, about half of the more than 1,000 students and a handful of staff wore masks.

Teachers facing many changes

Increased regulation is change – and change is not easy for many people, including teachers.

“Nobody wants to give their heart and soul to the kids and be scared…of getting in trouble,” said Moore, who heard about the closed classroom library.

Moore said the teacher and Storm Grove administration met after the parent posted the photo, so the teacher could better understand the issues. He wasn’t sure if the classroom library would open or close, but it probably wouldn’t continue to look like it did.

“It’s entirely up to the teacher,” he said, noting that the educator had done nothing wrong. “Teachers who have been teaching for a long time adapt to a new reality; these are some of the struggles.

Teri Barenborg, the school board president, said she knows of other teachers who have closed their classroom libraries. Many don’t have time to proofread every book to make sure it won’t offend anyone, which will lead to complaints.

Barenborg offered to form a volunteer group of retired educators to review classroom libraries and help a) teachers focus on teaching and b) ensure students have easy access to appropriate books immediately.

On Facebook, Love’s message became political. Initially, the image was so powerful that I had not seen what it said about it.

“You can thank DeSantis and Moms for Freedom for restricting this classroom library. So ridiculous!!!! she wrote in a post that had been shared nearly 200 times as of 1 p.m. Friday. She was referring to the Governor of Florida and an organization that calls for the removal of objectionable books school libraries.

Indian River County’s Moms for Liberty chapter posted a “fake news alert” on its Facebook page. He said the teacher did not follow district policy outlined in the memorandum sent by the district.

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Keep politics out of the discussion

Moms for Liberty released what it said was an email that Jennifer Pippin, its chapter president, received from Moore. He said: “The situation here is in no way related to the advice provided by the district”, which added the memorandum.

I couldn’t help but think of the local school board race between incumbent Jackie Rosario, endorsed by Moms for Liberty and DeSantis, and Cindy Gibbs, endorsed by the teachers’ union and backed by Love.

Rosario worked in the district for a year before leaving and home-schooling her child. Gibbs worked as a teacher for 13 years before taking a job from home in 2018 paying more. She has two students at local schools, including one in Storm Grove.

Focus only on students

Laurence Risman

Rosario advocated removing the books from the schools, saying his own council violated state law by not removing the disputed books. Gibbs defended decisions by school professionals not to remove certain books.

Which comes down to the conundrum of who defines what is appropriate. For most of my life, that decision was made locally. Now, to some degree, it’s made in Tallahassee.

Is this what we want, state bureaucrats at central office determining what books our children should have access to in our local schools? I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan or other traditional conservative leaders thinking the state had better answers than local communities.

Regardless of the policy or the adults involved, there should be – as with any educational policy – one goal: the students. Avoid politics and bogeymen.

Here’s one thing we should all agree on: putting as many appropriate books in the hands of as many students as possible so they can learn and thrive, and then become productive Americans who can think critically. .

When we all work together to make this happen, we all win.

This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him by email at [email protected], phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman

Colin L. Johnson