Former Florida teacher speaks out about incurring the wrath of Gov. DeSantis for tweeting a video of the empty bookshelves at his middle school
- A substitute teacher in Florida was fired after posting a viral video of empty library bookshelves.
- Governor Ron DeSantis called the clip a "fake narrative."
A substitute teacher in Florida — who posted a viral video of empty bookshelves in a school's library — was let go from his job after he was caught in the eye of a political storm.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called the video, and the subsequent backlash over the book removals, a "fake narrative." The now-fired teacher, Brian Covey, told Insider that the situation is "mind-blowing" and "surreal."
In October of last year, Brian Covey began working as a full-time substitute teacher at Mandarin Middle School in Duval County, Florida. Covey's two children, who he said are "avid readers," also attend elementary school in the district.
In late January, he tweeted: "They removed every single book from my children's classrooms. I read books about the consequences of this when I was in school."
The next day, he posted a video showing rows of empty bookshelves, which has been viewed more than 13 million times. as of this week, The viral video underscored the consequences of Florida's large-scale effort to assess and remove 'inappropriate' books from schools, and the clip provoked widespread outrage online.
—JagsFanBrian✊✊✊ (@JagsFanBrian) January 27, 2023
On February 14, Governor Ron DeSantis was asked about the video at a press conference,and called it a "fake narrative" — denying that all the books were removed to undergo an assessment after the controversial new Stop WOKE Act was passed last year.
Duval County Public Schools also pushed back, posting a video on Twitter saying Covey's viral video is "less than half the story," showing the empty shelves were "in a room full of books."
On the evening following the governor's press conference, many weeks after he had posted his first tweet, Covey was fired from his position.
Covey, who usually limits his social media posting to the Jaguars football team, is undeterred and said he wants to continue to bring national awareness to the state's new policies.
"Politics has gotten so cruel and intrusive that it's using children's education as a pawn," he told Insider.
A spokesperson for DeSantis told Insider in an email, "You should reach out to the school board about their employment decisions. I also encourage you to ask Mr. Covey about why he lied and felt it appropriate to politicize this issue."
A spokesperson for the school district said Covey was fired because of his "misrepresentation of the books available to students in the school's library and the disruption this misrepresentation has caused."
Covey's firing may have violated his First Amendment rights, Kate Ruane, director at the free-speech organization PEN America, told The Washington Post
"What the district has done is clearly an attempt to chill the speech of public school teachers," Ruane said.
Covey, who used to work in finance, said he had calculated sthatonly 6,000 books out of 1.6 million had been vetted and approved by the district. Media specialists, who usually provide reading comprehension lessons to students, are now required to conduct the laborious book-vetting process, which also takes away learning resources, he added.
Covey is not the only teacher or librarian in the state concerned about empty bookshelves. In January, Duval County Public Schools told educators to "err on the side of caution" in determining whether a book is free of pornography or content dealing with themes of racism or gender identity.
Educators who do not follow this directive are threatened with facing felony charges or being stripped of their teaching licenses.
While Covey is disappointed that he is no longer able to work as a substitute in the district, he is now "just trying to get books back in my kids' school."
He says he wants to ensure that the governor and school board "have to live with the consequences of disrupting my kids' education."
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