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A new report shows Florida ranks second in nation among spike in book bans

Victoria Crosdale
WUSF Public Media

In its report Banned in the USA, the non-profit group PEN America reports Florida is second only to Texas in the amount of books removed from public school shelves.

Kasey Meehan, lead author of the report, says legislation like the Stop WOKE act and the Parental Rights in Education law, known by critics as "Don't Say Gay," has had a chilling effect on educators.

"In districts across Florida, any time a book is challenged, we've seen that book be immediately removed, which is against procedural best practice to keep a book accessible while it undergoes review," Meehan said.

The group says efforts to challenge books are part of an "ongoing nationwide campaign to foment anxiety and anger with the ultimate goal of suppressing free expression in public education."

Since PEN America started tracking public school book bans in July 2021, the organization has recorded more than 4,000 instances of banned books nationwide through December 2022.

This includes 1,477 individual book bans affecting 874 unique titles during the first half of the 2022-23 school year. Thirty percent are about race and racism, while 26 percent have LGBTQ characters and themes.

Meehan says an emerging trend in the past six months is the significant increase in books being deemed "pornographic."

"This rhetoric about porn in schools has been used to justify the removal of hundreds and hundreds of books and in no way do these books fit the well-established legal or colloquial definitions of pornography or obscenity," she said.

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In a press release sent hours after the PEN America report, the conservative education groupsMoms for Liberty wrote, "there are parents fighting across the country because even while a solid one-third of 4th and 8th grade students in America cannot read on grade level, there are more books found each year explaining sexual positions and sexual acts using sexually explicit words and photos."

The group did not provide any statistics regarding their statement.

PEN America defines a school book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.
Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.
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