The state has moved to the No. 1 position — surpassing Texas — in keeping books out of students’ hands, according to the findings of a 100-year-old organization dedicated to protecting free expression.
PEN America counted 1,406 Florida book bans spread over 33 of the state’s 67 school districts from July 2022 to June 2023, accounting for more than 40% of all book bans in the country. That’s an increase from the 566 book bans the New York City-based organization counted in Florida last year. And the number could likely grow in the following report.
New legislation (HB 1069) took effect July 1, which Democratic lawmakers warned could lead to crusaders taking every library book off the shelf while they undergo review.
The group said that Florida is providing the playbook for other states to follow.
The reading freedom organization chalks up the growing number of books restricted from school libraries to vaguely worded legislation that allows groups, such as Florida-founded Moms for Liberty, to raise objections about books’ content.
PEN America found that themes of violence and physical abuse were the most common subject matter for banned content 48% of the time last year. Topics on health and well-being for students came in second, accounting for 42% of the restricted content.
The movement deprives young adults and children of the opportunity to engage in the real world and develop the freedom to think, PEN America officials said.
“More kids are losing access to books, more libraries are taking authors off the shelves, and opponents of free expression are pushing harder than ever to exert their power over students as a whole,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s CEO.
“Those who are bent on the suppression of stories and ideas are turning our schools into battlegrounds, compounding post-pandemic learning loss, driving teachers out of the classroom and denying the joy of reading to our kids,” Nossel added. “By depriving a rising generation of the freedom to read, these bans are eating away at the foundations of our democracy.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials have called the notion that books are being banned in the state “a hoax” that’s being perpetuated by the forces trying to indoctrinate children.
“Exposing the ‘book ban’ hoax is important because it reveals that some are attempting to use our schools for indoctrination,” DeSantis said in a news release from the Governor’s Office. “In Florida, pornographic and inappropriate materials that have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards.
PEN America says they define “book ban” as an attempt to override the decisions that educators and librarians have made for what’s appropriate at various age levels. When the latest bill was being debated, Republican Sen. Blaise Ingoglia noted he would be jailed if he texted a 10-year-old a picture of some of the contest being consumed in school libraries.
Yet, 75% of the banned content was written and selected for young audiences, according to Kasey Meehan, PEN America’s Freedom to Read program director and lead author of the report.
“Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric continues to ignite fear over the types of books in schools,” Meehan said.