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Florida at the center of debate as school books ban surge nationally



JACKSONVILLE, Florida. Two years after the surge in book bans in the United States, Florida has become a hotspot of conflict over what reading materials are appropriate for children, with laws that have greatly expanded the state’s ability to restrict books.

Historically, books have been challenged one at a time. As school and library bans began to ramp up across the country in 2021, the effort has been largely local, parent or group led. But over the past year, access to books, especially those about race, gender, or sexual orientation, has become increasingly politicized. Along with this, some states and school districts have seen an increase in statutes and regulations that have affected what books libraries can offer.

The shift is especially noticeable in Florida, where the governor is. Ron DeSantis, the Republican-controlled Legislative Assembly, and a rapidly growing network of conservative groups came together to pass three state laws last year aimed, at least in part, at reading or learning materials. Among the books withdrawn from circulation in one of the state’s school districts are Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

The policy has energized Mr. DeSantis’ supporters and is part of the platform from which he is expected to run for president.

Proponents of the restrictions say the goal is to protect students from inappropriate material and give parents more control over their children’s education. By focusing on “parental rights,” Mr. DeSantis is trying to build on the popularity he built up when he resisted Covid-19 restrictions, especially in schools. The push is a characteristic part of the conservatism he displays in Florida. Its Parental Rights in Education Act, for example, restricts teaching about gender and sexuality, which has led some counties to withdraw books featuring LGBTQ characters.

Some teachers and librarians say the policy is vague, with vague wording and broad requirements, leading to some confusion. But they try to fit in. Breaking the law could be a third-degree felony; in general, such crimes are punishable by imprisonment for up to five years

In January, when the new rules went into effect, some teachers removed or covered up books that had not been reviewed by certified media professionals, whose approval is now required by law. Others do not order books that may cause complaints. Some professors emptied shelves or pulled out collections until the titles could be revalued.

“This is a whole new level of fear,” said Kathleen Daniels, president of the Florida Educational Media Association, a professional organization for school librarians and media educators. “There are books that weren’t selected because they completed the assignment.”

Florida is second only to Texas as the state with the most book seizures. according to the report published Thursday by free speech advocacy organization PEN America, which tracked book bans in schools from July 1 to December. 31 from 2022. But PEN said Florida’s sweeping statewide approach of “wholesale bans” that restricts access to “an incalculable number of books in classrooms and school libraries” makes it difficult to quantify the true extent of book seizures in the state. .

Many of the new restrictions stem from a law passed last year that requires trained media professionals to evaluate every school book to ensure it is age-appropriate and free of “pornographic” content. The law also requires schools to maintain an online searchable database of books in their libraries and classrooms.

The proposed law goes further. In March Florida House passed check it may require schools to remove the book immediately based on a single complaint from a parent or district resident that the book depicts sexual behavior. Under the proposed bill, the book will remain unavailable until the complaint is resolved.

Two other laws promote book bans in Florida schools. The Stop WOKE Act prohibits teaching that may cause students to feel guilty or responsible for the past actions of others of their race. The Parental Rights in Education Act prohibits classroom teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary grades; government expansion expected restrictions up to 12th grade.

Efforts by Florida’s 67 public school districts to implement the new rules have been uneven and often chaotic. Some districts did not take any serious action. Others undertook a mass removal that essentially gutted the libraries.

Earlier this year, shortly after new rules for libraries were published in January, some areas quickly complied with them. In Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, the public school district has restricted access to more than a million titles, preventing students from accessing them until they are reviewed by experts. In Manatee County, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, some teachers have packed their classroom libraries in boxes or covered shelves. Martin County authorities on the state’s Atlantic coast seized about 150 books in January and February, including John Green’s Looking for Alaska and James Patterson’s Maximum Ride, a series of sci-fi adventure books for readers. ages 10 and over who were taken from elementary schools.

Mr. Patterson, who lives in Palm Beach, Florida, called the seizure of his books “frightening.”

“When you can take a hit series like ‘Maximum Ride’ and take it off the shelves,” he said, “it shows that no one is safe.” County unfolded sheet did not give a specific reason for the removal of the series.

The study materials media specialists advised them to think about how they would feel reading passages from the book in question aloud. “If you are not comfortable reading material in a public place,” the State Department of Education slideshow says, “then you should refuse to provide material in the school library for children.”

Jennifer Pippin leads the local chapter of Moms for Freedom in Florida and served on the Department of Education committee that helped develop educational materials. She said books removed from the state’s school libraries should not be considered “banned” because they remain available in public libraries and bookstores.

She said that young people in the school library might borrow a book containing a graphic rape scene because they liked other volumes in the same series. Or a child with an interest in penguins might open a book about a penguin family with two dads. But “it might not be right for them by their parents’ standards,” she said. “Without instructions or parental guidance, some of these things can actually be harmful.”

In January, the Duval County School District asked 54 county media professionals to begin screening more than 1.6 million titles. Primary school teachers were told that unapproved books should be covered or put aside.

ABOUT 25,000 books cleared the verification process as of the beginning of this month. The ongoing process has left more than 129,000 Duval County students with access to only a fraction of the titles available, critics say.

“Our books are under a shadow ban,” said Nina Perez, a Jacksonville resident and director of anti-restriction organization MomsRising. “They are mired in the administrative process.”

Tracey Pierce, a spokesperson for the Duval School District, said in an email last month that these actions followed the state Department of Education’s guidance. Classes should never have been left without reading materials, he said, as students still had access to approved books and collections. He acknowledged that “a small number of executives briefly closed or over-restricted” media centers and were advised to restore access.

Mr. DeSantis has responded aggressively to criticism over the ban on books in public schools. He dismissed news reports that Duval County Schools removed a headline about baseball player Roberto Clemente as a “joke”, accusing critics of “fabricating” the book ban story.

The book, which refers to the racism Mr. Clemente has faced, was removed and then reinstated in February after being reviewed. Last month, the state education commissioner named John Winter’s Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates Book of the Month for students in grades three through five.

At a press conference last month, Mr. DeSantis stood behind a sign that read “HOAX Book Ban Exposed” and said the state was trying to protect children from pornographic material. The event kicked off with a presentation of books that were reported to be seized in the county, including Gender Queer by Maya Kobabe and “Flamer”, Mike Curato — and highlighted scenes about sexual encounters and masturbation.

“This idea of ​​banning books in Florida, that books are somehow not needed in the library, is a hoax,” Mr. DeSantis said. “And it’s a really nasty hoax because it’s a hoax designed to desecrate and sexualize our children.”

Critics in the state are fighting back. In March, the human rights organization Democracy Forward filed lawsuit with the state on behalf of the Florida Education Association and other groups challenging the rules, alleging they censor educators, limit students’ access to books, and harm public education. Florida’s Reading Freedom Project staged a rally last month in Tallahassee with writers and free speech activists to protest censorship.

After Brian Covey, substitute teacher in Jacksonville, posted video in January empty library shelves at Duval County High School, a reporter asked Mr. DeSantis about it. The Governor called the video a “fake narrative”. Mr. Covey, who lost his job shortly thereafter, said he was concerned that Mr. DeSantis and the school district were trying to delegitimize what he documented.

The fact that they called it a false narrative, Mr. Covey said, “tells me they didn’t mean to say, ‘We made a mistake.’

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In Iowa, Pence contrasts sharply with Trump on abortion.



CLIVE, Iowa. Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday attempted a direct confrontation with former President Donald Trump on abortion, rejecting the idea that laws about the procedure should be left solely to each state. presidential candidates.

Pence, who has made moves to run in the Republican primary against the president he served under, made direct reference to Trump in comments about abortion to reporters. “I do think it’s more likely that this issue will be resolved at the state level, but I don’t agree with the former president who says this is a state-only issue,” Pence said. “We have been given a new beginning of life in this country. I think we have an opportunity to promote the sanctity of life, to bring it closer to the center of American law.”

Pence said he thinks people should look to Congress in addition to their state houses following the decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health OrganizationSupreme Court decision that overturned last year Row vs Calf, which had previously established the constitutional right to abortion.

Pence mentioned a federal ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy as an idea “that should become an integral part of the debate.”

“The Supreme Court did not refer the issue of abortion to the states; they handed it over to the American people,” Pence said.

Pence’s comments came at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s spring launch event, the first gathering of current and potential presidential candidates in the state, which is expected to kick off the Republican nomination contest with its caucus next year.

A large number of declared and potential Republican presidential candidates were in Iowa this weekend, where voters are debating who can best top President Biden. (Video: Rich Matthews/The Washington Post)

The remarks underlined Pence’s ongoing efforts to establish himself as one of the most staunch opponents of abortion rights ahead of a potential presidential race and to show how he differs from his former boss. Last summer after Dobbs decision, Pence said: “We must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life has been restored at the center of American law in every state in the country.”

In a November interview with CBS News, Pence said“If I were a member of Congress, I would support” a 15-week ban that some Republicans in Congress were proposing at the time.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for Trump told The Washington Post that the former president believes the matter should be left up to the individual states.

“President Donald J. Trump believes that the Supreme Court, led by three justices he supported, did the right thing when it ruled that this issue should be decided at the state level,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheng said in a statement. .

Trump’s position was criticized by the anti-abortion group SBA Pro-Life America. Its president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said in a statement Thursday that “Trump’s assertion that the Supreme Court has returned the issue of abortion exclusively to the states is a completely inaccurate interpretation of the Dobbs decision and is a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed lifelong presidential candidate.”

Trump appeared at Saturday’s event here on video with pre-recorded remarks touting his Supreme Court confirmation of three justices who helped bring down caviar Trump also noted that he was the first sitting president to attend the March for Life in Washington.

“From day one in office, I have taken historic action to protect the unborn,” Trump said. “I will proudly defend innocent life, as I have done for four very strong, strong years,” he added.

Pence also took responsibility for the Supreme Court confirmations that led to the overturning caviar.

“We have appointed three justices to the Supreme Court of the United States who have sent Row vs Calf to the dustbin of history where it belongs. You did it, Iowa,” Pence said during a personal appearance at Saturday’s event.

The Trump campaign is respond immediately on Saturday to questions about Pence’s comments, what type of federal legislation he would support, or whether he would support a ban on medical abortion.

Pence did not say if he would run for president, but he traveled through early states such as Iowa. He told CBS News in an interview published on Saturday that if he runs, he will make his announcement “well before the end of June.”

The Iowa event comes a day after the Supreme Court retained access to mifepristone, a drug millions of women in the United States take to terminate early pregnancies, by suspending a lower court decision that said the FDA the quality of food and medicine was inappropriate. make the drug more accessible.

“I respect the court’s procedural decision yesterday, but I remain very hopeful,” Pence said of the move, adding that he believes the drug should be banned.

Pence did not respond to questions being raised about whether he would support a six-week abortion ban. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently signed into law a ban on abortion after six weeks, when many women don’t yet know they’re pregnant. He signed the bill behind closed doors and first mentioned it publicly on Friday at the Heritage Leaders Summit, where he succinctly stated, “We recently signed the Heartbeat to Protect Life Bill.”

DeSantis, who also made moves to enter the presidential race, did not appear at the Iowa event, instead speaking at the Utah Republican Party’s organizing convention on Saturday.

Ruth Neubert, an independent voter from Oscaloos, Iowa, who attended the meeting, said she thinks abortion decisions should go back to the states. She said she didn’t agree with the six-week ban, but DeSantis is still her top choice.

Other 2024 hopefuls also touted their abortion achievements at the event, a key gathering for evangelical voters in the state. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that under his leadership, Arkansas was “the most active state in the country.” As governor, Hutchinson signed a near total ban on abortion.

“This is a problem for the states, and I think for the life movement, see if this becomes a federal problem again, the same shoe can fit the other foot if someone else leads in the future,” tech. This was stated in an interview with The Post by entrepreneur and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. “I think abortion is a form of murder, and I think that just as murder is regulated by state laws, so is this form of murder.”

Susan Glick, an undecided voter from Indianola, Iowa, said it’s important for candidates here to discuss abortion “because we believe God is the author of life and we really have no right to take that away,” but she said she doesn’t think Congress can pass a federal ban.

“I would love to have nationwide governance, but if that’s not the reality right now, then I’m willing to stay here in Iowa,” said Christie Judkins, chief executive of Iowa Right to Life.

WITH caviar was repealed, Democrats frequently touted their efforts to protect access to abortion. The debate has worked in their favor in many recent elections across the country as abortion rights advocates have shown strength in key race and voting initiatives even in conservative states like Kansas and Kentucky.

On Saturday, Democratic National Committee spokesman Ryan Lake issued a statement accusing Republicans attending Saturday’s event of pushing a “extreme agenda” including a “ban on abortion.”

Judkins urged Republican presidential candidates not to shy away from debate.

“More than ever due to rollover caviar, and exactly what we have seen in our country recently, we need a strong candidate who is not going to refuse to talk about it, ”she said. “It’s not a very fun topic to talk about, but in my opinion, it’s the only way to change the culture, and the president has the best opportunity to change the culture.”

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Supreme Court retains access to abortion pill – despite Alito’s salty objections



Two weeks after Texas District Judge Matthew Kachsmarik issued a nationwide ban on mifepristone in abortion pills, overturning the FDA’s approval of the drug since 2000, the Supreme Court there was orderpending full consideration of the appeal on the merits of the case. This decision delays not only Kaczmarik’s decision, but also the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which restored FDA approval in 2000 but banned an FDA update in 2016 that extended the use of mifepristone from seven to 10 weeks. This means abortion pills are legal again until 10 weeks – for now.

This is a victory for reproductive rights, as they preserve the rights that people still have after last year’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Row vs Calf counted as a “win”. Now the case is heading back to the Fifth Circuit, which will hold a hearing and, almost certainly, issue another chaotic ruling against abortion pills. This decision will eventually be challenged in the Supreme Court, so we don’t know when access to medical abortion will again be in jeopardy.

However, this is not a complete victory. The Supreme Court should have dismissed Kaczmarik’s decision outright, rather than postponing it until further review. This is because Kachmaryk’s decision was not only wrong in substance, but also a complete disaster in technical and procedural terms. The plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit to ban the abortion pills – a group of hyper-Christian “doctors” – did not demonstrate that they had suffered any harm from the FDA’s approval process and therefore should not have been allowed to sue in the first place. . Moreover, the lawsuit should have had a statute of limitations – there is a six-year statute of limitations for challenging FDA decisions – and Kaczmarik simply ignored it. These procedural shortcomings meant that the case could be closed without dragging it out until the date the court chose to hear the whole case.

However, this outcome has always been the most likely. The Supreme Court doesn’t like to dismiss cases without a full hearing, and while I thought this case was so idiotic that it could and should have overcome that general preference, I’m not surprised that the court’s conservative large majority wanted to give forced… in favor of full hearing.

I’m also not surprised that the votes of the judges ultimately fell short. The court granted a stay in the form of an unsigned one-paragraph order, but two judges who disagreed publicly expressed their disagreement: Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Alito wrote a complete disagreement.

Pretty much everything Alito writes is offensive, wrong, and dangerous, and that’s the case here too. But since he’s lost (so far), his disagreement also smacks of bitterness. He is furious, and it is easy to imagine how he types in the dead of night with his face wrinkled from the bile that enlivens his soul. Alito essentially held the entire country hostage by this ruling for a couple of days, just so he could scatter sand in a form of dissent.

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