Florida – In a move that has sparked intense debate and legal challenges, the Escambia County School District in Florida has removed over 1,600 books from its shelves, including dictionaries and encyclopedias. This drastic action comes in the wake of a new law, HB 1069, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, which has significant implications for educational content in the state.
The decision to pull these books, including widely recognized titles such as The Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe it or Not, was based on the assertion that they contain content related to “sexual conduct.” This includes references and descriptions that the school board members believe violate the newly implemented law. HB 1069, effective July 1, 2023, primarily focuses on limiting sexual education in schools. It specifically bans topics related to sexual health, sexual orientation, and gender identity. As a result, the school district took the step of removing the dictionary and other books from their libraries over the summer break, citing their inclusion of terms that fall under the banned topics.
This action has not gone unnoticed or unchallenged. In May 2023, PEN America, a notable organization advocating for freedom of speech and access to literature, together with publisher Penguin Random House and several authors, filed a federal lawsuit against the school board. The lawsuit argues that this act of book removal impedes free speech. Recently, a judge has allowed this lawsuit to proceed, marking a significant development in this ongoing issue.
PEN America’s stance is clear and firm. They assert that providing students access to a wide range of books and diverse viewpoints is essential to public education. Their argument is that such access prepares students to be thoughtful and engaged citizens. Moreover, they argue that the removal of these books violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This is because, according to them, the books targeted for removal disproportionately represent works by non-white and/or LGBTQ authors.
The Escambia County School District, however, maintains that the books are not banned but are temporarily pulled for further review in order to determine whether the content violates DeSantis’ legislation.
This issue is part of a broader national debate on educational content and book banning in schools. According to a 2022 poll by the American Library Association, a significant majority of American parents oppose such efforts to ban books in schools. The poll reveals that 74% of parents of public school children have high confidence in school librarians to make informed decisions about book availability. This statistic is particularly relevant in the context of Florida, which, according to PEN America, leads the nation in book removals and restrictions.