(NEW YORK)—Three weeks after posting a video showing empty bookshelves in a Duval County, Florida middle school, the substitute teacher who originally created the video has been dismissed by the school district and the contracting firm that placed him in that school. Despite the video being published in late January and gaining wide viewership, no action was taken until Friday, February 17.  On February 16, a reporter asked Gov. DeSantis of Florida about the video and he called the video a “false narrative.” When asked to explain why the teacher, Brian Covey, was fired, Duval County School District said that the district and the contracting firm reviewed the video and determined that it violated the school’s social media policy. The district further claimed Mr. Covey’s dismissal was due to his “misrepresentation of the books available to students in the school’s library and the disruption this misrepresentation has caused.”

Reports that the Governor’s commentary may have led to the dismissal of a teacher are shocking,” said Kate Ruane, director of US Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “If confirmed that Duval County has terminated Mr. Covey from his position for showing the world the impacts of Florida’s school book bans and censorious education laws, a serious infringement on free expression has occurred. Teachers have the First Amendment right to inform the public regarding the conditions in their schools and how policies are impacting their jobs, their students, and their communities. They should be protected as whistleblowers when they raise these alarms, not punished, marginalized, or fired. 

Ruane said:,“This comes amid reports out of the District in recent months which paint a worrisome picture of the chilled climate of public education — from the banning of books to the cancellation of a student play. Duval County’s dismissal of Mr. Covey appears to be yet another tactic in a concerted effort to chill speech. PEN America condemns these attacks on free expression.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057