Dictionaries banned in Florida school district following new DeSantis legislation

Controversial book removals spark debate over educational freedom in Florida.

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The Escambia County School District in Florida has recently made headlines for its decision to remove dictionaries and encyclopedias from its library shelves. This action is a direct consequence of a law endorsed by Governor Ron DeSantis, sparking widespread discussions on censorship and the state of educational freedom in schools.

H.B. 1069, under which this decision was made, targets the removal of library books that depict or describe sexual conduct. The Escambia County School Board, following this law, has initiated an emergency rule for a thorough review of all library books, leading to the current wave of bans.

Florida leads the nation in book bans, with PEN America documenting 1,972 instances in 37 districts during the 2022-2023 school year. This statistic highlights the extent of censorship across over half of the state’s school districts.

PEN America, Penguin Random House, and other entities have filed a federal lawsuit against the Escambia County School Board. They argue that the mass removal of books infringes on rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.

The banned list includes various dictionaries and biographies of figures like Beyoncé and Thurgood Marshall. The district’s approach, influenced by right-wing checklists, has led to a broad sweep of titles being removed from school libraries.

Vicki Baggett, a high school English teacher in the district, has played a significant role in the book challenge process. Her influence is evident in the large number of titles she has contested, reflecting her particular stance on various books.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has defended the school board’s actions, arguing that public school libraries are meant to convey the government’s message, which can include the removal of disapproved speech. This novel argument has raised concerns about the purpose of educational resources.

Authors, parents, and community members have expressed opposition to these book bans. The lawsuit against the school board alleges a violation of constitutional rights by restricting access to diverse literature.

A federal court is set to hear the school board’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The hearing will be a crucial moment in determining the validity of both sides’ arguments regarding First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The situation in Escambia County represents a broader issue of educational freedom and access to diverse literature in Florida. The outcome of this legal battle could have significant implications for the way educational content is regulated in schools across the state and the country.

Ife Finch Floyd of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute remarked on the decision’s broader impact, stating, “This will leave 1,156,000 children without the Summer EBT, a vital source of nutrition during school vacations.” This comment underscores the critical nature of the ongoing debate over educational resources and censorship in Florida.

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Ruth Milka started as an intern for NationofChange in 2015. Known for her thoughtful and thorough approach, Ruth is committed to shedding light on the intersection of environmental issues and their impact on human communities. Her reporting consistently highlights the urgency of environmental challenges while emphasizing the human stories at the heart of these issues. Ruth’s work is driven by a passion for truth and a dedication to informing the public about critical global matters concerning the environment and human rights.

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