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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis doesn’t just get to write a book that includes words like “gender ideology,” “systematic racism,” and “woke,” and not expect people to challenge students’ right to read it. At least, that’s what Florida Democrats thought when they sent formal challenges of DeSantis’ new memoir The Courage To Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival to roughly 50 school districts. Florida House of Representatives Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, who is leading the charge, says the challenges were made in response to the book banning law DeSantis signed last year.
“That law is so very vague that it can just catch up lots of [books] that probably shouldn’t be—first of all, we shouldn’t be banning books at all,” Driskell told Motherboard. “We just really wanted to highlight how problematic and open for abuse the law is and we’re just concerned.” Driskell notes the chilling effect this particular law—which opens teachers up to a third degree felony for “knowingly or unknowingly'' provide access to a book the state deems “prurient” or “offensive” to a minor—is having on classroom and school libraries throughout the state. In response, districts sent teachers directives to “remove or cover all classroom libraries” until their books could be thoroughly reviewed in order to be in compliance with the law. In one case, a substitute teacher was let go after DeSantis got word that someone was filming empty library shelves and posting the footage online.“The issue really isn’t so much his book, it’s about the bad law that can be used politically to deny books to kids,” she added. A representative for DeSantis sent a link to a gif when reached by Motherboard, but did not provide further comment.
Florida Democrats’ plan to tie The Courage To Be Free up in his own law has been in the works for some time, according to Driskell. As she puts it, she and her colleagues anticipated there would be terms or phrases in the book that someone could string together a compelling case for why the book should be banned. Although it’s unclear how many of the districts that received formal challenges from elected officials actually have copies of DeSantis’ book, at least one has responded. In a letter from Marion County Public Schools obtained by Motherboard, the instruction materials coordinator said that because they don’t have the book, they cannot “evaluate the work as a whole” to assess the objection. However, the coordinator did add they would report the title to the Florida Department of Education that DeSantis’ book did receive a community objection, in accordance with the book ban law. “It frustrates me that the coordinator for instructional materials in Marion County Public Schools had to even write a letter like this, because that's the thing about this law—it opens it up to anybody, whether they're in Florida or not, whether they're a parent or not, whether the book is in the school or not, to make objections like this,” Driskell added. “It's wasteful. It's creating unnecessary work for schools who are trying to keep up with the pace, you know? It's got them on eggshells.” Whether book bans should beget more book bans is beside the point right now for many Floridians right now. Jen Cousins, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, says she thinks it's “brilliant” how elected officials have chosen to troll DeSantis after so many books on gender, race, and sexuality have become tied up in his law. “It's an important act of defiance to say, [if] you're going to challenge these books and get them banned, then we’re going to challenge you too.” Cousins told Motherboard. It’s widely anticipated that DeSantis will announce a bid for a 2024 presidential run and that he will emerge as a front runner.