DeSantis, a Republican who is running for president in 2024, has been an outspoken critic when it comes to removing books from Florida schools that he has deemed inappropriate and has since faced backlash over a law passed last year requiring teachers to remove books that do not appear on a state-approved reading list until they are reviewed by an employee with a media specialist certificate. School officials across the Sunshine State have scrambled to comply with the law, with some saying it has created confusion about which books are allowed in the classroom.
Republicans have said the legislation prevents students from obtaining books that are not age-appropriate, but critics view the law as an attempt to stifle discussion about issues including race, gender, and the LGBTQ+ community in public schools, raising concerns that many topics may be censored by this law, which has been met with staunch opposition from Democrats.
In a Sunday interview with Fox News host Shannon Bream, the Florida governor maintained that books have not been outright banned in the state, but rather a simple removal of what he says are “inappropriate” books from the classroom.
“I was at a gathering of women the other night, but one of them said, ‘I think it’s terrible in Florida that they are banning books.’ She has a child that’s in the LGBTQ community and said, ‘I don’t want my child to go somewhere like that,'” Bream said.
In response, DeSantis emphasized his stance and said, “First of all there has not been a single book that has been banned in the state of Florida, that is a media hoax. To take a book out of a fourth grade classroom that is pornographic because it is not appropriate for kids at that age is not banning the book. You’re free to do that as an adult if that is what you want to do.”
While being asked by Bream on the decision to remove books from certain age groups citing concerns from parents, the LGBTQ+ community, and teachers on how this will impact students, the Florida governor added, “You have to make decisions about what’s appropriate for the curriculum…The other thing is about what teachers can say and not. A teacher should not be instructing a second grader that their gender is a choice…I think what we are really doing is vindicating what education should be.”
While efforts to ban books or censor educational material have risen in recent years, Florida became the first in a wave of conservative states to enact legislation to regulate books available in schools—and sometimes even in public libraries, since the passing of the law in 2022.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has released data documenting a continued uptick in attempts to censor books, materials, and services across public schools and academic libraries in the United States.
Between January 1 and August 31, 2023, OIF reported 695 attempts to censor library materials and services, and documented challenges to 1,915 unique titles, a 20 percent increase from the same reporting period in 2022. In Florida, the data shows that 22 attempts were made to restrict access to books, while 194 titles were challenged in those attempts.
Newsweek has reached out to DeSantis and the American Library Association for further comment.
Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, announced in April a travel advisory for the state because of laws that were put forward in Florida that make it “hostile” for LGBTQ+ individuals.
“Free states do not ban books. Free states do not censor entire communities out of the classroom. Free states do not refuse to recognize the historical contributions of LGBTQ people because of who they are and who they love. Free states do not wage war on people to score cheap political points for a man desperate to be President,” a spokesperson for the organization told Newsweek in a previous statement.