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Florida now leads the nation in school book bans

 Teachers in Manatee County were told to cover their classroom libraries until the books could be vetted.
Tamara Solum
Teachers in Manatee County were told to cover their classroom libraries until the books could be vetted.

Book bans and restrictions in U.S. public schools rose 33% in the 2022-23 school year, according to a new reportfrom the free speech advocacy group PEN America.

And for the first time, Florida led the nation when it comes to limiting access to books in public school libraries.

Over 40% of all book bans nationwide occurred in Florida school districts. The 1,406 cases recorded more than doubled the 625 posted by the previous year's leader, Texas.

In addition, Florida also had the most school districts removing books.

The total includes books banned altogether and ones that were removed from shelves pending further review.

PEN America asserts that Florida’s education laws have helped drive restrictions on literature.

READ MORE: Miami now has a Banned Books Club - founded by a 16-year-old

Jonathan Friedman, the director of education programs for the nonprofit group, calls the escalation of book bans "alarming."

"We have never had in the United States such an effort to politicize schools to such an extreme; to put this much pressure on teachers and librarians to censor what they're doing and look over their shoulders before they talk about any subject,” he said. “All of this is going to have a toxic impact on our ability to have schools that are effective."

Friedman also attributes the surge in book bans to organized groups that have conducted coordinated pressure campaigns on school districts.

"It's not about any one particular book, it is about the movement; a movement that seems to only be gaining more steam, trying to influence more political decisions in statehouses and doesn't seem to want to surrender any ground to any kind of compromise," he said.

PEN America says one of the more prominent national groups pushing for book bans is Moms for Liberty, which was founded in Florida.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7.

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