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Florida teachers union sues over state law that may have led to book banning

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

A teachers union is suing Florida's Department of Education. The lawsuit is the first to be filed over a new law that critics say is leading to book bans in schools. Kerry Sheridan of member station WUSF reports.

KERRY SHERIDAN, BYLINE: The Florida Education Association filed what's known as an administrative legal challenge. It's not challenging the law itself, which requires schools to be transparent about curriculum and library materials that was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis last year. Instead, the suit says the Department of Education expanded the scope of the law, known as HB 1467, and went too far when it issued training for school librarians this year. Skye Perryman is with Democracy Forward, a legal advocacy group which has lawyers on the case.

SKYE PERRYMAN: What has happened here is Florida officials under the DeSantis administration have flagrantly and unlawfully exceeded the quite narrow authority that HB 1467 provided the Department of Education.

SHERIDAN: For one, she says the state redefined the term school library to include any collection of books in a school, even those in classrooms. Here's an excerpt of a training video all school media specialists in Florida have to watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Elementary classroom libraries are a type of school library. Materials in all school libraries...

SHERIDAN: Words like these have led some teachers to empty their classroom shelves, says Andrew Spar. He's president of the Florida Education Association.

ANDREW SPAR: We've all seen teachers being told to box up their classroom libraries, to take the books off the shelves and put them aside if they are not books provided by the school or district.

SHERIDAN: He says that's not what state lawmakers intended with HB 1467.

SPAR: When they were debating it, they took out specifically classroom libraries so that they would not be covered by this law. And the Department of Education, by rule, put it back in.

SHERIDAN: The suit alleges that the state harmed hundreds of thousands of teachers and students. Jay Wolfson, a professor at the University of South Florida, says no matter how the administrative hearing goes, appeals are likely.

JAY WOLFSON: The courts will ultimately determine if the governor's interpretation and application of the law is within his constitutional authority.

SHERIDAN: The Florida Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

For NPR News, I'm Kerry Sheridan in Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kerry Sheridan