JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA — Governor Ron DeSantis ripped the media for claiming new Florida law threatened teachers with felonies for inappropriate books. The governor called the story a “fake narrative” and suggested it was a “politically motivated” attack by his opponents.
“This is trying to create some narrative. […] What they’re trying to do is make it seem like we don’t want books,” DeSantis told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday. “When they start chirping about that, understand they’re talking about longstanding Florida law that’s trying to protect young children. I think they’re trying to do things to virtue signal. I think it’s all politically motivated.”
The governor differentiated between existing law that prohibits knowingly giving pornography to children – which is a third-degree felony – and the new HB 1467 that requires books be vetted by a certified media specialist. Despite media reports to the contrary, no one would be charged with a felony for using books that featured controversial topics prohibited in classrooms – such as Critical Race Theory (CRT) or intersectionality – even though those books may be prohibited by the state.
EMPTY BOOK SHELVES AND FALSE REPORTING
Over the past few weeks, dozens of news stories and social media posts documented teachers in Duval and Manatee County Schools covering or emptying their classroom libraries. Many reports claimed that teachers could be arrested and charged with a felony over benign books such as “Captain Underpants.”
The Washington Post issued a correction after falsely conflating the new law with existing state statutes related to giving children pornography.
One of the numerous Jacksonville reporters who also made this error, First Coast News’ Atyia Collins, said her job was to “make [DeSantis] uncomfortable.” Collins’ story from January 24 had not been corrected as of Tuesday afternoon.
DESANTIS BLAMES TEACHERS’ UNIONS
DeSantis suggested that teachers’ unions were behind the recent hysteria and challenged reporters to look up public records between the school districts and union staff.
The timeline of events gives at least some legitimacy to DeSantis' suspicion. The vague memo from Duval County Schools that triggered the confusion was sent on January 23, the same day that the governor announced a $1 billion raise in teacher pay and the “Teacher’s Bill of Rights” protecting teachers from union influence.
Union President for Duval Teachers United Terrie Brady appeared on First Coast News the very next day, reinforcing the false claim.
“We’re telling our employees: ‘When in doubt, remove the book,’” Brady told First Coast News. “We’re not talking about a slap on the hand. We’re not talking about being pulled out of your classroom. We’re talking about a third-degree felony.”
Manatee Education Association union president, Pat Barber, also appeared on a local TV station on January 24. Notably, Duval County Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene previously served in the same role at Manatee County Schools.
DESANTIS VS. THE MEDIA
Hours after the governor’s press conference ended, his press secretary Bryan Griffin posted a lengthy tweet calling out First Coast News, saying that the station “continues to, unashamedly, push a fake narrative about book bans and felony penalties.”
“There has been no state instruction to empty libraries or cover up classroom books. However, we ARE taking a stand against pornography and sexual material in the classroom,” Griffin added. “Not literature, not ‘certain topics’ – it's pornographic material that carries the felony penalty. NO classroom or school library should have pornographic material made available to children. Unfortunately, this is a real and ongoing problem.”
Griffin finished his tweet by calling out First Coast News for never contacting the state for clarity or comment.
“Your critic-focused article fails to mention any attempt to reach out to @EducationFL, which would have easily clarified the inaccuracies in your reporting.”