Florida Senate Passes One Per Month Limit on Book Challenges

Bill would also establish a ‘classical education teaching certificate’; why is there a special treatment?

Max McCoy/Kansas Reflector

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The Florida Senate approved a bill Tuesday with a provision for placing a cap of one book challenge per month for people who don’t have students enrolled in the school district in which they placed an objection.

The vote came after the Legislature’s top leaders expressed the need to rein in frivolous objections to materials available in classrooms and libraries.

Lawmakers have been weighing different options to curtail objections following sweeping book challenges that have disrupted Florida school districts across the state. Most of the options discussed targeted people who aren’t parents of students in the districts in which they challenge materials.

The vote was along party lines, with Democrats opposing the bill (HB 1285).

But the House had already approved a $100 “processing fee” on subsequent challenges filed by people who have already unsuccessfully challenged five materials available in a school district where they don’t have children enrolled. So, the House has to approve HB 1285 again before the session ends.

Reining in the book challenges

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said she hoped the provision senators approved today would be the final product.

“What happened is people went overboard and they started objecting to the classics like Shakespeare, which I think is ridiculous,” Passidomo told reporters on Tuesday. “So it’s like everything. We needed to rein that in, and the devil’s in the details and the kind of language and how to do that. But I think we’re on the right course.”

Democratic Sen. Lori Berman of Palm Beach County questioned what impact the change would have if it didn’t restrict challenges from parents.

“I guess we went a little bit too far when we did this the first time through, but do we know that a lot of these people are not parents or guardians? Do we think that this is going to truly make a difference in the way that our larger book bans have gone?” she said.

The number of book challenges in the state has garnered national attention.

In the 2022-2023 school year, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, which accounted for 40%. The next state with the most book ban cases was Texas with 625. The PEN America report notes that Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom and Parents’ Rights in Education are groups with chapters across the nation that have pushed for book bans.

“I don’t believe that we stepped on anything in the original bill that we passed. What we’re doing, though, is recognizing that we could always improve and in doing so we’ve seen some things happen across the state we just want to make sure aren’t being taken advantage of and it’s as simple as that, and that’s why I think this is a good faith measure,” said Republican Sen. Danny Burgess of Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

Requirements for classical school teachers

Another provision in the bill would require the State Board of Education to establish specialized teaching certificates for people seeking to work in schools using a classical education model.

A person who holds the classical education teaching certificate wouldn’t have to demonstrate the same requirements as teachers in other schools, such as mastery of general knowledge, subject area knowledge, and professional preparation and education competence.

The curriculum at current classical schools —public charter schools — focus on grammar, logic and rhetoric, according to a staff analysis of the bill. There are 18 such classical charter schools in Florida.

Under the bill, the State Board of Education would “adopt rules to allow for the issuance of a classical education teaching certificate. Upon the request of a classical school, the DOE (Department of Education) will issue a classical education teaching certificate to any applicant who fulfills the requirements for a professional certificate except for demonstrating mastery of general knowledge, subject area knowledge, and professional preparation and education competence,” according to the staff analysis.

Teachers with the classical education certificate would still need to have a bachelor’s degree, be 18 years old and pass a background check, Burgess clarified.

Democrats voted against the bill because of the classical education teaching certificates.

“No other avenue has certifications like we’re about to give now to the classical schools. We have certifications for Greek, Latin, Humanities. So the issue for me here is why is there a special treatment,” said Duval County Democratic Sen. Tracie Davis.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

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