Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Duval Schools tells teachers to 'cover or store' books

A teacher in Duval County books submitted a photo of classroom books covered by caution tape to WJCT News.
A teacher in Duval County submitted a photo of classroom books covered by caution tape to WJCT News.

Duval teachers say they are being instructed to "cover or store" classroom libraries they have used for years to supplement their students' reading.

In what appears to be an internal training video obtained by WJCT News, the district's chief academic officer, Paula Renfro, tells teachers to temporarily pull books from classrooms. Duval Schools confirmed to WJCT News on Friday that the video was sent to principals to share with staff earlier this week.

"Books not on the district-approved list or not approved by certificated media specialists need to be covered or stored and paused for student use," Renfro says in the video, explaining that the district is trying to comply with new state laws restricting schoolbooks.

On Monday, the district announced it was conducting a formal review of classroom libraries in response to a Florida law that took effect last summer making it easier for parents to contest books.

The law also requires elementary schools to publish a searchable list of all books "maintained in the school library or required as part of a school or grade-level reading list."

New guidance approved last week by the state Board of Education includes elementary classroom libraries too. Classroom libraries are typically compiled by donations, and teachers add their own books to provide students reading material during their free time. 

The district says, in response to multiple new state laws, it will block books that depict pornography, instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 or books that say an individual is "inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."

Teachers across the state have expressed fear and confusion over whether the state's longstanding law making pornography in schools a third-degree felony can be enforced against other newly restricted books.

The state's new guidance says a book that depicts nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement must also be "harmful to minors" to be illegal.

In the internal video, Renfro says the district is trying to increase staffing to review books under the state's new guidance.

"We're looking at giving teachers duty-free time to assist in reviews and reemploying retired media specialists, who still have an active certificate to increase our capacity to conduct reviews," Renfro says in the video.

Last month, Duval Schools returned 47 book titles from a classroom library book collection it had ordered in 2021. An additional 26 books from that collection are still under review by the district.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.