Florida second only to Texas in banning school books as number of bans rises, report finds
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks. Image via AP.

book banning
'Censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds,' free speech group says.

Only Texas has banned books more frequently than Florida’s public schools, according to a national free speech organization that attributed two new pieces of the state’s legislation with an uptick in verboten books.

PEN America counted 566 Florida book bans spread over 21 of the state’s 67 school districts from July 2021 to June 2022. That compares to the 801 bans in effect in 22 Texas school districts. Pennsylvania clocked in at third place with 457 bans in 11 school districts.

The report, issued Monday in recognition of Banned Books Week, raises the alarm from critics that this new momentum for banning books could impair the free exchange of ideas that makes American democracy work.

In the vast majority of cases, the new wave is much more than a parent objecting to a book found in their child’s backpack, officials from PEN America said. It’s coming from organized and coordinated groups such as the national Moms for Liberty and Florida Citizens Alliance.

“Today’s wave of bans represents a coordinated campaign to banish books being waged by sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy organizations,” said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America.

“This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs, and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a flourishing democracy.”

The state Department of Education did not immediately return an inquiry seeking comment on the findings, which specifically cited the passage of the Parental Rights in Education Law (HB 1557) and another on K-12 Education (HB 1467), which calls for an open review of all educational materials.

According to PEN’s study, the banned material most often concerns LGBTQ issues and/or features a protagonist or secondary character who is not White. Out of the 1,648 titles banned, 674, or 41%, addressed LGBTQ themes. And 659, or 41%, had main characters or secondary characters who were not White.

Groups such as the Florida Citizens Alliance (FCA) and even Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had members of FCA on his transition team, say they aim to keep obscene material out of schools and stop “indoctrination.” But Ashley Hope Perez, author of Out of Darkness,” a young adult novel, said the increasing number of book bans is part of a reaction against featuring characters more diverse than Dick and Jane.

Her novel, about a Mexican American teen who falls in love with a Black teen in the 1930s, was published seven years ago and hadn’t even been challenged until very recently.

“Using concerns about sexual or graphic content is a pretext for this coordinated effort to block young people’s access to books that represent diverse identities and experiences,” she said. “It’s a political strategy.”

The group also noted that the new atmosphere has meant that school districts preemptively purge their collections to avoid challenges. Among them:

The Broward County School District donated 11 boxes of LGBTQ-themed books to the Stonewall National Museum & Archives.

 Palm Beach County schools also reviewed and removed two books about transgender youth, including one about a Broward teenager who shared her story about gender transition surgeries and therapy.

 Brevard County schools canceled their use of a math learning game and paused all individual classroom libraries because of concerns it might fall on the wrong side of the new laws.

Even more, Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression at PEN America, said “best practices” are not being followed in 96% of the book challenges his organization considered. He noted that many schools pull books as soon as they are challenged. And that poses a serious problem for the continued operation of school libraries.

“If you can file 500 library book challenges, and all those books are immediately pulled from the shelves, how can you possibly run a school library?” he asked rhetorically. “A modicum of due process is a fundamental necessity … to protect school libraries and student rights.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]


12 comments

  • Jay Smif

    September 19, 2022 at 3:03 pm

    “The free state of Florida,” my balls. Pudgy fascist DeSantis is absolutely worthless.

    Reply

    • Mr. Haney

      September 19, 2022 at 3:59 pm

      DeSantis can apply for a prison guard slot.

      Reply

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  • Ocean Joe

    September 19, 2022 at 3:05 pm

    Why won’t they ban Mein Kampf?

    Reply

  • Elliott Offen

    September 19, 2022 at 3:42 pm

    Ban the Bible…it’s got too much bloodshed, violence, and stuff about sex. Also doesn’t help that the New Testament is about a dude whose own father instructed him to be executed.

    Reply

  • PeterH

    September 19, 2022 at 4:00 pm

    DeSantis Ultra-MAGA’s like Hitler’s brown shirts and SS consider “book burnings” FREEDUMB

    Reply

  • EDUARDO F INFANTE

    September 19, 2022 at 4:24 pm

    Non of this 2000 genders that defy common sense and confusion, frustration, incalculable depression is what socialist-communists individuals in favor of.
    That is clear indoctrination to our young people and their aim is the destruction of the values and rights that the Founders of this nation worked for. These individuals goal has been for a very long time their obsession. Hate for America Judeo-Christian values enshrined in our Constitution, which for some it is just a discarded shit of paper and the end of the nuclear family and the destruction of our civilization.

    Reply

    • Tom Meagher

      September 20, 2022 at 9:30 pm

      Eduardo, you have serious problems. Please get help for your hallucinations.

      Reply

  • KurtinOC

    September 19, 2022 at 8:17 pm

    Come on Florida.. You can be better than this..

    Burn more books and take that #1 Position from Texas.. Put the Taliban to shame.

    Reply

  • Whodathunkit

    September 20, 2022 at 12:53 am

    Not Burning books, not even banning books.(the books are not destroyed and remain available elsewhere to you for you own reading pleasure) Rather, it’s a process of selecting appropriate learning material for students receiving an education in public schools. Want to teach your kids about sex or sexual acts, great, as a parent or guardian it’s your choice and most likely your duty. It should not be a function of public schools.

    Reply

    • KurtinOC

      September 20, 2022 at 7:43 pm

      Then ban and Burn the Bible too.. It is full of it bad things like this :

      The Bible gives children many obscene examples for how to speak with colorful and vulgar language used by their God:

      Ezekiel 23:19–21: Yet she multiplied her obscene practices, remembering the days of her youth, when she prostituted herself in the land of Egypt. She lusted after their lovers, whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys and whose discharge is like the discharge of horses. So, you longed for the outrageous sin of your youth when the Egyptians handled your breasts because of the breasts of your youth.

      Jeremiah 13:26: “So I Myself have also stripped your skirts off over your face, that your shame may be seen.” You read that right. God was the one who raised their skirts.

      Malachi 2:3: “Behold, I am going to rebuke your descendants, and I will spread dung on your faces, the dung of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it”

      Reply

  • KwkRoss

    September 20, 2022 at 7:45 pm

    BAN THE BIBLE AT OUR SCHOOLS !!

    The Bible teaches young boys that God sees nothing wrong with raping young girls as long as they are virgins:

    Deuteronomy 22:28–29: “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and SEIZES her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.”

    Deuteronomy 21:10–13: ”When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her (that means to rape her) and be her husband and she shall be your wife.” (Rape and kidnapping were not only approved by the Bible, but they were expressly authorized as part of God’s Law)

    Reply

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