Only Texas has banned books more than Florida’s public schools, according to a national free speech organization, which linked two new pieces of state legislation to a surge in banned books.
PEN America, counted 566 book bans in Florida from July 2021 to June 2022, spread across 21 of the state’s 67 school districts. This compares to 801 bans in 22 Texas school districts. Pennsylvania ranked third with 457 bans in 11 school districts.
That Report issued on Monday in acknowledgment of Banned Books Week, alarms critics that this new dynamic in banning books could interfere with 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, PEN America officials said. It comes from organized and coordinated groups like the National Mothers for Freedom and Florida Citizens Alliance.
“Today’s wave of bans represents a coordinated campaign to ban books carried out by sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy groups,” he said Susan Nossel, Managing Director of PEN America.
“This censorship movement is turning our public schools into political battlefields, driving wedges into communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs, and chilling the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpins a thriving democracy.”
The State Ministry of Education did not immediately return a request for comment on the findings, specifically mentioning the passage of the Parents’ Rights in Education Act (HB1557) and another about K-12 education (HB1467), which calls for an open review of all teaching materials.
According to the PEN study, the most common banned material involves LGBTQ issues and/or features a protagonist or supporting character who is not white. Of the 1,648 banned titles, 674 or 41% dealt with LGBTQ issues. And 659 or 41% had major or minor characters who were not white.
Groups like the Florida Citizens Alliance (FCA) and even Gov. Ron DeSantiswho had members of FCA on his transition team says their goal is to keep obscene material out of schools and Stop the “indoctrination”. but Ashley Hope Perezauthor of “From the darkness“ a young adult novel, said the increasing number of book bans was part of a reaction against the portrayal of characters more different than Dick and Jane.
Her novel, about a Mexican-American teenager who falls in love with a black teenager in the 1930s, was published seven years ago and hadn’t even been contested until recently.
“The use of concerns about sexual or graphic content is an excuse for this coordinated effort to block young people’s access to books that represent different identities and experiences,” she said. “It’s a political strategy.”
The group also noted that the new atmosphere has led to school districts preemptively deleting their collections to avoid challenges. Among them:
— That Broward County School District 11 boxes of LGBTQ books donated to the Stonewall National Museum & Archives.
— Schools in Palm Beach County also reviewed two books about transgender youth and then decided to remove them, including one that was about a Broward teenager telling her story about sex reassignment surgery and therapy.
— Brevard County Schools quit using an educational math game and paused all individual classroom libraries over fears it might fall on the wrong side of the new laws.
Even more, Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech at PEN America, said that “best practices” were not followed in 96% of the book challenges his organization considered. Many schools withdraw books as soon as they are challenged, he said. And that poses a serious problem for the continued operation of school libraries.
“If you can submit 500 library book challenges and all of those books are immediately pulled off the shelves, how can you possibly run a school library?” he asked rhetorically. “A degree of due process is a fundamental necessity … to protect school libraries and student rights.”