Florida School Board Sued for Pulling Dictionaries From Shelves in Latest War on Books

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Florida School Board Sued for Pulling Dictionaries From Shelves in Latest War on Books
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Brandon Bell // Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

A school district in Florida has pulled 1,600 books including dictionaries and encyclopedias from their shelves after school board members said the books violated a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in the GOP’s ongoing war on education.Escambia County School District officials say that the dictionary, along with books like The Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe it or Not, contain terms, references, and description of “sexual conduct.” 

The law, HB 1069, which went into effect on July 1, 2023, aims to limit sexual education by banning topics like sexual health, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Because of this, the school district said they decided to remove the dictionary from school libraries over the summer break, as they contain terms that fall under those banned topics.In May 2023, PEN America, an organization fighting for freedom of speech and access to literature, along with publisher Penguin Random House and several authors, filed a federal lawsuit against the school board for impeding free speech. This week, a judge ruled that the suit could move forward.“Ensuring that students have access to books on a wide range of topics and that express a diversity of viewpoints is a core function of public education—preparing students to be thoughtful and engaged citizens,” PEN America wrote. It added that the removal of the books violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution “because the books being singled out for possible removal are disproportionately books by non-white and/or LGBTQ authors.”In a statement, Escambia County School District said that the books weren’t actually banned from schools, but just pulled for “further review” to determine whether they violate DeSantis’s legislation.According to a 2022 poll by the American Library Association, the vast majority of parents in America are against Republican-led efforts to ban books in schools. “Three quarters of parents of public school children (74%) express a high degree of confidence in school librarians to make good decisions about which books to make available to children,” the ALA wrote in its findings. Florida schools have the highest percentage of book removals and restrictions in the country, according to PEN America.

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