School is not out yet for the summer, but some things have already started shutting down.
The media center, whose plethora of books was once accessible to students, has recently been closed, and according to several CCHS staff members, will remain out of order for the rest of the school year.
Currently, the CCHS media center is closed due to the need for testing proctors. According to Test Coordinator Melissa Megna, the current media clerk, Rosemane Rempart, is assisting with test proctoring. But, Megna posits that after the testing season is over, the media center will remain closed, as the books inside the media center must be scrutinized.
“I was speaking to Ms.Megna, who is also the teacher, that is over the media center, and she said that because of the new legislation surrounding how books need to be scrutinized now, they’re gonna have to close the media center,” ESE Support Facilitator Michele Kitman said. “She has to set up a committee, and the committee has to review every book, according to the checklist for the state, and they need to determine whether they keep it and if they have to put it in a locked room.”
Books deemed inappropriate and put in a secure environment will be more difficult for students to access; according to several sources, a student must acquire parent permission before getting their hands on one of these locked books.
These new, stricter rules surrounding book access in school can be attributed to recent legislation in the state of Florida.
In late April, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, which restricts what texts a school can have concerning race, as it is aimed at avoiding the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). There has been an increase in rejections of textbooks by the Florida Department of Education following this law; according to their press release, 41% of books submitted to the adopted list were struck down due to inclusion of CRT or other prohibited material.
But, the Stop WOKE Act isn’t the only piece of legislation that is affecting books in schools. Recently signed into law, House Bill (HB) 1487 allows parents and community members to have more control over books taught in schools and kept in their media centers. It requires the establishment of a system where people can contest the usage of books in a school if they believe it violates standards stated in the Florida Statutes or other Florida laws.
Additionally, Senate Bill (SB) 1300 requires that school media centers publicize their procedures for selecting material for media centers and forces elementary school media centers to disclose a registry of their contents to the public.
CCHS is not the only school struggling with possible book bans. Throughout the state, schools have had books pulled from the shelves of media centers. In fact, according to research done by free-expression organization PEN America over the last year, Florida has the third highest number of incidences of school book bans in all 50 states; it is only outbanned by Texas and Pennsylvania.
The prospect of having book access denied or removed is highly controversial among CCHS staff and students.
“I think any type of censorship unless it’s something that’s brutally offensive should kind of be steered away from and let people make their own opinions about things,” Language Arts teacher Wendy Schauben said. “Pulling books because we assume they might offend someone or teach someone some kind of ethos kind of assumes that people are that shapeable and they’re not.”
Beyond the concept of censorship, many are afraid of the implications of books being pulled from media centers. Since the passage of HB 1487, there have been many instances of complaints being filed against books that address things like LGBTQ+ identities and relationships, as well as racism and the experiences of people of color. Some believe that the law could be used to squash alternative narratives and viewpoints.
“This restriction harms the fostering of a love of reading in students and hinders accessibility. I am lucky to be able to have a public library card and a ride to said library, but not everyone has the same luxury,” sophomore Giovanna Dellaria said. “An open library in schools allows access to a plethora of books and the only time out of a student’s day is a few minutes to walk down and back. In our high school, a student would only need their school ID to check out a book. By closing the school library to scour every book for content the government deems inappropriate, resources are taken away from those who may not have access to them otherwise. When these libraries are reopened, they will be wiped clean of anything that differs from the cis, straight, white norm. Children will no longer be able to see themselves represented in a story, much less access that story in the first place, and that is truly terrible.”