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A judge backs Florida in a legal challenge to school book rules

 Books lined up on a library shelf
Victoria Crosdale
/
WUSF Public Media
An administrative law judge rejected a challenge to Florida Department of Education rules that are part of a move to increase scrutiny of books in schools.

One of the rules involves required online training for school librarians and other employees involved in selecting books for students; the other rule requires elementary schools to post online lists of reading materials.

An administrative law judge Thursday rejected a challenge to Florida Department of Education rules that are part of a move to increase scrutiny of books in schools.

Judge Darren Schwartz issued a 23-page order that dismissed the challenge by the Florida Education Association teachers union. The case involved two rules designed to carry out a 2022 state law. One of the rules involves required online training for school librarians and other employees involved in selecting books for students; the other rule requires elementary schools to post online lists of reading materials.

The 2022 law referred to books and materials in a “school library media center,” and the Florida Education Association argued that the Department of Education improperly applied the requirements to books and materials in classrooms. The union contended that the rules were invalid, in part, because the department had overstepped its authority.

But Schwartz wrote that the department’s definition of “library media center” to include classrooms was consistent with the law.

“Restricting the definition of ‘library media center’ to only central libraries, as FEA suggests, would thwart the objectives of (the law) to put safeguards in place so that only age-appropriate and non-harmful books will end up in the hands of children, and would render meaningless the statutory directives that the department has been tasked to implement,” he wrote.

“It makes no sense that the Legislature would enact a law to keep age-inappropriate and harmful books out of the hands of students in central libraries, only to allow such books to be available to students down the hall in classrooms where such books may be even more available to children. It is unequivocal that the department had specific rulemaking authority to promulgate the rules; that the department had discretion to define terms in the rules as part of its rulemaking authority; and that the definition of ‘library media center’ in the rules is the only reasonable meaning both consistent with, and required by, the relevant statutory authority.”

Schwartz also wrote that the Legislature this spring revised the law to include classrooms in the definition of library media centers.

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