TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis responded Wednesday to ongoing accusations that a series of laws passed last year equate to a widespread "book ban" in the public school system. 

What You Need To Know

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to claims of rampant book bans across the state in a press conference Wednesday

  • He was joined by local officials who listed books that were removed from schools, and explained why they were found to be problematic

  • The governor also listed several books that were approved for classroom use

The governor joined several local officials in criticizing schools or teachers who claim they felt compelled to remove nearly all books from classrooms and school libraries, saying that local districts have been able to approve specific books on a case-by-case basis.

Further, the press conference in Hillborough County was aimed at identifying books that contained material not appropriate for children that DeSantis claims were found in school libraries.

One parent who spoke during Wednesday's press conference mentioned two items her daughter claims to have found in the library at her school: a Hustler magazine and a book containing sexual themes titled, "A Court of Mist and Fury."

After mentioning those items specifically, the parent also brought up a book — which she did not name — that advised students on the process of uploading photos to Grindr, a location-based hookup app popular in the gay community, that she says was also in the school library 

DeSantis said that 89% of the books that were actually removed from school shelves during the approval process included material he categorized as pornographic, or material that was inappropriate for the grade or age level that had access to the books at the time of review. 

Some books that he mentioned that were explicitly approved involved the lives of anti-slavery activist and writer Frederick Douglass, and Black baseball player Jackie Robinson. He defended accusations that a law banned discussions of race, mentioning that Florida law requires the discussion of race and the nation's past with slavery. 

Two laws were passed last year that address educational materials used in schools. The first is HB 7, otherwise known as the "Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, and HB 1557, named the Parental Rights in Education Act. Both address the presence of materials in the classroom or on school property, but the parental rights law provides for a way for parents and others to formally request a book be reviewed for removal by district authorities. 

Last month, Florida House Speaker Paul Renner requested information about a book that was challenged in Hillsborough County, which was titled "This Book is Gay." 

"While the vast majority of reading and educational materials in our school libraries are age-appropriate, some books are so clearly obscene and directed to children that they would be rejected by adult bookstores, Renner said in a statement. "Any fair-minded person reviewing these books would agree, and we will not tolerate continued efforts to bypass Florida law."

In a letter dated Feb. 2, Renner wrote to Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis to discuss some of the books available to students in county schools.

"Recent media reports indicate that elementary and middle school libraries within your school district contain numerous books that appear not to be age-appropriate, and that at least some schools engage in an opaque decision-making process when addressing complaints from concerned parents," he wrote. 

Shortly after the law was signed, Seminole County made the decision to put book fairs on hold in light of the new law. One mother argued that limiting children's access to books was harmful after the education gap during COVID-related school closures. 

“To have something that’s so vital to children’s literacy as a pending item is sad, because the children love the book fairs,” Hallie Elduff said at the time. “They’re able to get excited about reading, which is something that in this day and age with technology — they’re competing all over for attention — and I think to have those book fairs, a presence in their school, is a necessity.

The Florida debate is a smaller part of a national push to remove materials deemed questionable from classrooms. A report from August of 2022 indicated that more than 1,600 titles were removed from classroom libraries in 2021, and current indicators revealed that more would be removed during 2022. 

A list of the most banned titles included: "Gender Queer: A Memoir," "All Boys Aren't Blue," The Kite Runner," and "13 Reasons Why." Also present in the list was "This Book is Gay," which was removed in 11 districts across the country in 2021.