Ron DeSantis' claims about book ban 'hoax' meticulously debunked
Ron DeSantis (AFP)

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been pushing back on the mounting criticism of his policies regarding books in public schools, claiming in a press conference this month that it's a "hoax" Florida is engaging in mass book bans.

But investigative reporter Judd Legum methodically debunked all of DeSantis' claims in a takedown on his Popular Information blog, published on Monday.

For starters, noted Legum, DeSantis claimed that Brian Covey, the former Duval County substitute teacher, was fired for pushing the "hoax" that school shelves in his district were empty. It's true that he was fired, but the video he showed of empty library shelves was entirely real, with books taken off shelves pending review, and "that review was mandated by a 'curriculum transparency' law signed by DeSantis last year."

A spokesperson for the school district freely admitted this.

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DeSantis also claimed that "there was a 'concerted effort to bring some of this sexualization into the classroom, particularly in these young grades,'" wrote Legum. But "there is no evidence of this. Acknowledging LGBTQ people exist is no 'sexualization.'"

He also claimed that only 19 books have actually been banned under the new law — which, Legum wrote, is technically true but conflates the final decision on banning books with the thousands of books that have been taken off the shelves pending "review" because of the law empowering basically anyone to challenge any book for any reason.

"In Escambia County for example, there have been challenges filed to remove 175 books from school libraries," wrote Legum. "148 of those books have been removed from library shelves during the challenge process, which includes multiple reviews and appeals. But thus far, the Escambia County school board has considered and made a final decision on just four books. It voted to remove all four. The other 170 challenges are still pending. But, in DeSantis' intepretation of the data, Escambia would have only removed four books."

DeSantis' education commissioner Manny Diaz, wrote Legum, "claimed that the books on Aaron and Clemente were withheld from students by political partisans seeking to embarrass DeSantis. But records reviewed by Popular Information reveal that they were withheld by administrators who were concerned that the books might violated the Stop WOKE Act, a law championed by DeSantis which limits certain kinds of instruction about race."

Technically, Legum points out, the Stop WOKE Act only regulates "classroom instruction," so "the DeSantis administration could clear up any confusion by confirming that the Stop WOKE Act does not apply to library books. Instead, it has refused to do so and created a training for media specialists suggesting the Stop WOKE Act does apply to library books."

Finally, Legum wrote, DeSantis claimed it's a "myth" that teachers could be charged with a felony for discussing certain topics in schools, saying that charge would only apply to teachers who distribute "pornography." The problem is, Florida's new laws have a ludicrously overbroad definition of "pornography" that has resulted in investigations of best-selling Toni Morrison novels and a book that simply depicted a young man as a ring bearer for two men getting married. According to author Jodi Picoult, one of her books is frequently challenged for a completely non-sexual anatomical description of date rape.

All of this controversy comes as DeSantis gears up for a presidential run, touring early states to tout a right-wing cultural agenda and setting up a clash with former President Donald Trump for the nomination next year.