Hundreds of dictionaries planned for distribution by a local Rotary Club are gathering dust as the Sarasota County School District awaits guidance from Florida’s Department of Education on how to proceed in light of an education law recently signed by the Republican governor, The Sarasota-Herald Tribune reported Friday.
All book donations and purchases have been halted in the district for the rest of the year because the new law (HB 1467) requires books to be approved for suitability by state-certified media specialists, a job that doesn’t currently exist in the district.
DeSantis, who has signed laws that also restrict discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary school classrooms, has said HB 1467 will help prevent “indoctrination through the school system.”
The Sarasota district, which has nearly 45,000 students across 62 schools south of Tampa, ordered all principals last week to bar new books from school media centers and classroom libraries until at least January, a district spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost.
Gar Reese, a member of the Venice Suncoast Rotary Club, told The Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the club has been donating dictionaries to district elementary schools for almost 15 years. The club partners with the nonprofit Dictionary Project to donate about 300 each year. The program has provided about 4,000 dictionaries to date.
“I would suspect somebody, anyone, could approve a dictionary in less than one minute,” Reese told the newspaper. “Why are we going through all this trouble?”
Reese said he reached out in vain to district officials to try to resolve the issue.
“It’s really just kind of disappointing,” Reese said. “Nobody wants to have an argument over a dictionary.”
Craig Maniglia, the district’s director of communications, told the Tribune that officials are still awaiting “guidance” concerning the dictionary donation.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee said in a 44-page ruling that the act violates the First Amendment and is impermissibly vague. Walker refused to issue a stay that would keep the law in effect during any appeal by the state.
The judge said the law, as applied to diversity, inclusion and bias training in businesses, turns the First Amendment “upside down” because the state is barring speech by prohibiting the discussion of particular concepts in training programs.
Two other suits are also challenging the law. One of them, by a group of K-12 teachers and a student, argues that the law violates the Constitution’s protections of free expression, academic freedom and access to information in public schools.
It’s not yet clear if Walker’s decision could affect DeSantis’ public school restrictions.