Rocky Hanna: With 460,000 school library books, parents will determine kids’ access

Recently there have been new laws and regulations placed on schools by the governor and the Florida Legislature focused on determining whether books and educational material are deemed obscene or age appropriate.

In the past, media specialists and librarians could use something called The Miller Test to determine whether a book was appropriate for school aged children. That test, established by the Supreme Court, is the primary legal test for determining whether expression constitutes obscenity.

Since the passing of HB 1069, the Miller Test is no longer the benchmark. With these new laws, parents, organizations, and community members at large can now challenge whether an individual book should be made available for students in our schools based on their own perceptions and beliefs.

I would never want students to have access to obscene material. Taking away the clarity of the Miller Test and not providing adequate guidance to schools makes it hard for librarians and media specialists to effectively perform their job. The test allowed for some discretion. It was the gold standard used by many schools throughout the country.

Now the system allows for challenges to books that could be based on ideology.

We believe in transparency and want to ensure that the public understands the context in which book challenges can be made. As superintendent of schools, I do not want to be in the business of banning books. Our district is simply complying with the laws passed by the legislature.

In accordance with these new laws, Leon County Schools has established a process for parents to challenge a book. All challenges begin at the school level by submitting an official form. If a book is challenged, there are multiple avenues to determine whether access to the book will be restricted. Locally, the school board has the final decision in the process, though its ruling can be appealed to a state magistrate.

There are currently more than 460,000 books in our school media centers. Each of the titles are listed publicly on a database that our parents can search by clicking a hyperlink found on our school websites. Our district is stronger when parents are involved. I invite all of our community to look through the list of books.

My goal is to create a system where the rights of one parent and student do not impede on the rights of another parent and student who may disagree over access to materials in school. To accomplish this goal, we will be implementing a process to allow parents to determine their own student’s level of access to checking out books. This process will be available when school starts in the fall. We will have more information about this program soon.

I want to thank each of our librarians and media specialists. Their job has now gotten exponentially more difficult, but I know they will continue to do what is best for their students. I look forward to reading to students this year as I have done every year. I hope our students continue to experience the magic of reading to open the possibilities of their worlds.

©Tallahassee Democrat

Rocky Hanna, Superintendent Leon County Schools / Your Turn
Published 5:14am ET July 21, 2023 Updated 10:28am ET July 21, 2023