Duval Schools challenges textbook ban

Duval Schools landed this week on a widely circulated list of districts banning textbooks, but the district argues the list is bogus.

PEN America, an organization advocating free speech, has released a tally of books banned across the country, including more than 550 in Florida, the second-largest of any state. Only Texas has banned more.

At least 175 of the books banned in Florida were in public schools in Duval County, according to the report. Clay County Public Schools was shown with two banned books and St. Johns County with six. No other bans were found in northeast Florida.

PEN America, a nonprofit group representing writers and publishers, defines a book ban as any action taken against a book as a result of parental or community challenges, administrative decisions, or actions threatened by government officials – whether the book was suppressed or simply restricted.

Duval Schools might not agree with this definition. None of the books on the list have been banned or challenged at Duval schools, a spokeswoman told WJCT News on Tuesday.

Instead, books are being revised, a process complicated by staffing shortages as administrative staff fill classroom vacancies.

The district has ordered books in the Essential Voices Class Libraries collection in 2021, and the list includes many titles that should be reviewed to ensure they are grade level appropriate, the spokeswoman said.

The collection includes 176 titles that its distributors say are designed to make classroom libraries more diverse and inclusive. Tracks include “Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story” by Kevin Noble Maillard, “Dim Sum for Everyone” by Grace Lin and “Pink Is For Boys” by Robb Perlman.

New Florida laws restrict how schools teach about sexual orientation, gender identity and race issues. Although the laws are being challenged in court, they have left school districts scrambling to comply.

Duval Schools has decided this year to drastically reduce its LGBTQ+ support guide and took down a 12-minute anti-bullying video that taught middle school and high school students how to support their gay and transgender peers. The district has also come under fire for removing rainbow stickers and posters that supported LGBTQ students.

The PEN America report, “Banned in the United States: the growing movement to censor books in schools”, documents the emergence of groups involved in coordinated efforts to ban the books. PEN America has identified at least 50 groups — such as Moms for Liberty — advocating for national, state or local bans.

“While we view book bans as the work of concerned citizens, our report demonstrates that today’s wave of bans represents a coordinated campaign to ban books led by sophisticated, ideological and resourceful advocacy organizations. sufficient resources,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director. of PEN America, said in a press release.

These groups share lists of books to challenge, invade school board meetings, demand new grading systems for libraries, use inflammatory language about “grooming” and “pornography,” and even file criminal complaints against students. school officials, teachers and librarians, the report says.

“This censorship movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians out of their jobs, and chilling the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a thriving democracy,” Nossel said.

The most frequently banned books were Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” (banned in 41 districts), followed by George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue” (banned in 29 districts) and “Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (banned in 24 districts).

Complaints about diversity and inclusion efforts have accompanied calls to remove books with protagonists of color, and many books have been targeted for simply featuring LGBTQ+ characters, PEN America said. Non-fiction stories of civil rights movements and biographies of people of color have been swept up in these campaigns.

“This rapidly accelerating movement has resulted in more and more students losing access to the literature that enables them to address the challenges and complexities of democratic citizenship,” said Jonathan Friedman, Program Director of Free Expression and Education of PEN America and lead author of the report. .

“The work of groups that organize and advocate for the banning of books in schools is particularly damaging to students from historically marginalized backgrounds, who are forced to live out stories that validate their lives disappearing from classrooms and schools. library shelves,” Friedman said.

Colin L. Johnson