MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) — Some classrooms in Manatee County schools might look a little different from what students and teachers are used to seeing. Some educators have covered up their classroom libraries or emptied the shelves in the last few weeks.

“We were told by the district we had to make our books ‘inaccessible’ to students until we could go through and vet each book to make sure it’s on the approved list,” said one Manatee County middle school teacher who asked to remain anonymous.

District officials sent out a note last month with the following guidance.

Per the new statutory changes to House Bill 1467Section 1006.40 (3) (d), F.S. All material in school and classroom libraries or included on a reading list must be:

  1. Free of Pornography and material prohibited under S. 847.012, F.S.
  2. Suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.
  3. Appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used and made available.

The penalty for violating the law is punishable by a third-degree felony charge.

Pat Barber, the president of the Manatee Education Association, said the possible penalty is raising concerns among teachers.

“It does generate concern and fear because it is their reputation, it could be a challenge to their certificate if they are accused, or convicted of a third-degree felony,” Barber said. “It’s a large sword hanging over teachers’ heads if they are concerned that anybody off the street can walk in and challenge a book or accuse them of giving an inappropriate book to a child,” she continued.

8 On Your Side contacted the Governor’s Office for comment. Press Secretary Bryan Griffin referred us to a statement he posted on social media:

“Each school district is tasked with ensuring that the materials offered in school libraries and classrooms offer educational value and comply with Florida law,” Griffin said in a Twitter post. “Nobody has a ‘right’ to give children pornography or push their own political agenda using the vehicle of public education. Those who are equating this to a ‘book ban’ or censorship are being willfully dishonest,” the thread continued.

The local school district sent us the following statement.

“In regards to books in school media centers or classrooms, the School District of Manatee County is abiding by all applicable laws and statutes of the state of Florida, and adhering to the guidance of the Florida Department of Education.”