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Florida educators face possible felony for violating new state law

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Duval County Public Schools is in the process of reviewing all material in classroom libraries to stay compliant with a new state law signed by the governor last year under House Bill 1467. Some teachers said they’ve been told to temporarily pack up their books until they can be certified.

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“We are being asked to restrict classroom libraries...sadly you will need to remove student access,” said an email from a DCPS principal to teachers. “School principals are responsible for compliance with school district procedures meaning I will be the one with a felony if we are found in violation...I wish I was making this all up, but I am not.”

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The email obtained by Action News Jax by a teacher is accurate under new state guidelines, a Florida Department of Education representative confirmed.

All educators face the possibility of a third degree felony under Florida statute if they violate the law which says they can’t have, “Any book, pamphlet, magazine or printed matter that contains explicit and detailed descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, or sexual conduct that is harmful to minors.”

“It’s not just a fear I have. It’s a fear that thousands of teachers across the district have. Am I going to get in trouble for this? Am I going to get written up for this?,” DCPS teacher Chris Guerrieri said.

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A statement on the district’s website reads, “The Florida Department of Education has trained all Florida schools districts to ‘err on the side of caution’ in determining if a book is developmentally appropriate for student use. Under new Florida law, all books in elementary school libraries (including classroom collections for independent reading) must be reviewed by a certified media specialist.”

The state had training at the start of the year for media specialists, librarians, and other staffers. In the training, staff are reminded that violation of the law is a third-degree felony.

Action News Jax’s Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson, a criminal defense attorney, said felonies like that can be punishable by up to five years in prison. He compared it to other third-degree felonies like manslaughter.

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“That will deny you the ability to have many employments just because of the arrest. Not necessarily the conviction, but just the arrest. So, it has a tremendous impact,” he said.

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The district went on to say, “Teachers will receive a list of already approved books for continued use for classroom reading while the remaining books are under review. District staff members are working with teachers and certified media specialists to efficiently review books and to update the list as books are reviewed and approved. The district will soon provide school staff with more specific guidance on the review process. Additionally, once a book is deemed appropriate, it will be included in a public, online database, so that parents and other community members can see each book available to students.”

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