Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ claim that “inappropriate materials have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries,” over 75% of the books banned across the state were specifically written and selected for younger audiences.
Florida has overtaken Texas and moved to the No. 1 position in banning books in schools, with 1,406 bans reported across the state during the 2022-23 school year. According to PEN America, an organization dedicated to protecting free expression, that’s more than double the 625 bans reported in the state of Texas, and 40% of the entire nationwide total.
These are instances where books have been banned from classrooms or libraries, or both, or were banned pending investigations.
About 600 complaints filed across the state came from just two people — a Clay County father and a Pensacola high school teacher. Additionally, across the country, 87% of book bans occurred in school districts that have a chapter or local affiliates of any one of the national groups that push for book bans, including Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom, and Parents’ Rights in Education.
What this suggests, according to a Tampa Bay Times review of book bans in the state, is that a minority of activists can “overwhelm” school districts with petitions to ban books they don’t agree with.
Other findings from PEN America include:
- Over 75% of the books banned were specifically written and selected for younger audiences, such as young adult books, middle grade books, or picture books.
- Thirty percent of the books banned include characters of color and themes of race and racism; 30% include characters who represent LGBTQ+ identities; and 6% include a transgender character.
To those who value the free exchange of ideas in the learning process, the surge in book bans has dealt a death blow to their love of teaching. In fact, the sharp swing to the extreme right that Florida education has taken is one of the reasons for the massive teacher exodus across the state. As of the spring of 2023, the Florida Education Association (FEA) reported that there were 5,294 teacher vacancies in the state. This is more than double the 2,217 vacancies reported in January 2019, when Gov. Ron DeSantis took office.
“Some of the books that are being banned are classics; others get kids excited thinking and exchanging ideas, and this is how you learn to think,” Sylvia Vera-Leon, a recently retired schoolteacher from South Florida’s Little Havana neighborhood told Floricua earlier this month. “Isn’t that what schools are supposed to do?”
The number of book bans could actually escalate further in Florida in the future due to legislation (HB 1069) that took effect July 1 and makes it easier for groups or individuals to raise objections about a book’s content.
For their part, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-majority Legislature continue to call the notion that books are being banned in the state “a hoax” perpetrated by people they claim are trying to indoctrinate children.
But PEN America counters their claims of a hoax with the argument that the definition of a “book ban” is the attempt to override the decisions that educators and librarians have made for what’s appropriate at various age levels.
The American Library Association (ALA) agrees with PEN America’s position.
“These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement. “To allow a group of people or any individual, no matter how powerful or loud, to become the decision-maker about what books we can read or whether libraries exist, is to place all of our rights and liberties in jeopardy.”