A recent study of the state’s book bans shows how a small group of activists can overwhelm the system and keep books from school library shelves.
Although books continue to be pulled from public school libraries in certain counties across Florida, most of the state’s 67 school districts didn’t log a single formal complaint about a book, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of book complaints across the state.
In fact, records show that of the approximately 1,100 complaints recorded in Florida since July 2022, more than 700 came from Clay County, a district of 35,000-plus students that boasts a top 5 ranked school district, and Escambia, home to Pensacola in the western Panhandle.
Together, the two counties make up less than 3% of the state’s total public-school enrollment.
Even more notable is that about 600 of the roughly 700 complaints came from just two people — a Clay County father and a Pensacola high school teacher. What this suggests, according to the Tampa Bay Times review, is that although the state’s book banning movement is narrow in scope, a tiny minority of activists can “overwhelm” school districts.
In Clay County, for example, over 20 additional titles were recently added to the 2023-24 list of books found objectionable, with one man reportedly having filed hundreds of challenges in the district.
“The school board is removing books from the school library based on the political views of a small minority,” Shalini Agarwal, counsel for Protect Democracy told PEN America, a free speech and literary organization that ranks Florida #2 across the nation for most book bans.
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Some of the most frequently-targeted titles include those dealing with LGBTQ content like gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as books that touch on racial issues, especially those that cover the history of slavery and racial discrimination in the US.
“Why are they banning these books? Because they make the right-wing conservatives uncomfortable,” State Rep. Yvonne Hinson, who represents Florida’s 20th District, told Floricua earlier this year.
A list of banned titles meant to serve as a guide that districts can use when considering book purchases and material review, is set to be published by the end of August. Approved by Gov. DeSantis, the list is also supposed to make it easier for individuals to object to instructional materials and library books that they find inappropriate for use in public school classrooms, meaning the numbers of books challenged may only grow in the future.