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PolitiFact FL: Banned books in Florida schools: How accurate is a list Pink shared?

P!nk performs on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Rob Grabowski
Pink performs on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

The singer Pink is calling attention to book bans and taking aim at Florida.

Pink announced she planned to give away 2,000 books during her mid-November Sunshine State performances in response to book challenges.

"The following are some titles of books that have been banned from schools in Florida…. Lmk which book is pornography…." Pink wrote in a Nov. 13 X post. "To Kill A Mockingbird, The Hate (U) Give, Forrest Gump, A Catcher In The Rye, The Hill We Climb, Girls Who Code, Atlas Shrugged, 1984, The Kite Runner, The Bluest Eye, A Wrinkle In Time, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Fault In Our Stars, etc etc."

READ MORE: A PEN America report documents increased censorship in classrooms

The post was tagged with a community note that included a USA Today fact-check about a different list of banned books. Pink’s X post also drew ire from some conservatives.

Pink announced Nov. 13 she was partnering with PEN America, a group that opposes and tracks book bans, to distribute copies of four banned books during her Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 shows in Miami and Sunrise.

Different organizations define "bans" differently, but we zeroed in on Pink’s 13-title list to determine how accessible these books really are in Florida’s public schools. We found that although many of the books Pink listed had been temporarily or permanently removed or restricted from shelves in some Florida schools, using PEN America’s most liberal definition of a "ban," this happened in 17 school districts out of 67 in the state.

The state Department of Education and Collier County, meanwhile, reported removals in four districts. Collier County, which removed 313 books, more than any district in the state, released its list in November after the state’s September report.

None of the books were banned statewide.

After receiving feedback to her post, Pink wrote more about her list on X, clarifying that some of the books were banned in one or more Florida school districts.

What's happening in Florida?

Florida lawmakers in 2022 passed H.B. 1467, which made it easier for parents to find out about and object to books in public schools. Another law, H.B. 1069, took effect July 1 and clarified how school districts should respond to book objections and the steps they should take when removing texts from classrooms and library shelves.

A September Florida Department of Education report shows 20 of Florida’s 67 school districts and the statewide public Florida Virtual School removed 298 books in the 2022-23 school year. Some of those books were banned in multiple districts. Overall, school district officials received 1,218 objections about books.

The American Library Association defines a "ban" as the removal of a book based on a person or group’s objection. It distinguishes a ban from a "challenge," which it categorizes as any push to remove or restrict materials.

READ MORE: What does Florida's new rule on the American Library Association mean for public libraries?

PEN America has a broader definition of what constitutes a "ban." The organization records a book ban whenever access to a previously available book is removed or restricted — temporarily or permanently — because of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials. Books that are removed temporarily may not make it back to shelves for months. That’s a ban, PEN America said. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in May said no books had been banned in Florida, a statement we rated False.

PEN America said 40% of school book bans nationwide happened in Florida school districts in the 2022-23 school year. Many of the objections were for books containing sexual or LGBTQ+ content and came from a small group of parents, some affiliated with conservative groups, such as Moms for Liberty, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found.

Suzanne Trimel, a PEN America spokesperson, said "there are 814 unique book titles that have been banned in Florida schools since 2021."

Pink, who partnered with PEN, didn’t respond to a request for comment through her record label.

Florida school reports reflect some removals

The state’s report shows four books on Pink’s list were removed from some Florida school districts in the 2022-23 school year. After the state report was published, Collier County in November updated its website to show 313 books were removed from all grade levels to comply with state law. Collier’s count included three other titles that appear on Pink’s list. The district said some books may be reinstated after an additional review.

None of the books were banned statewide. Here are the books from Pink’s list that were removed, according to the state and Collier County:

  • "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, which described sexual violence involving minors, was removed in Clay, Martin and Collier counties.
  • "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, which also described sexual violence involving children, were removed in Clay and Martin counties.
  • "The Hate U Give," a young adult novel by Angie Thomas about racial profiling and a teenager coming of age, was removed in Martin and Collier counties.
  • "Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation" was removed in Indian River County schools. The text version of Frank’s book was not banned. The graphic illustrated adaptation contains references to Frank’s sexuality and description of her genitals, which prompted challenges. Both of the references are taken from the published text versions of her diary.
  • "Forrest Gump," Winston Groom’s novel of a mentally challenged man that became a hit 1994 movie starring Tom Hanks, was removed in Collier County because of an explicit sex scene and descriptions of nudity.
  • "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand’s novel about individualism, was removed in Collier County.
  • "Many Waters," the fourth novel in Madeleine L'Engle’s quintet that began with "A Wrinkle in Time," was removed in Collier County.

Jennifer DeShazo, a Martin County School District spokesperson, confirmed the three books the state report identified as removed in that district are not in circulation there. She said students may bring personal copies to school.

None of the six other books that Pink cited was on the state or Collier County’s list of removals.

Pen America's definition of 'ban' puts the number of removed books higher

PEN America, meanwhile, puts the total number of Florida school districts where those titles were removed or restricted at 17. By its count, "The Kite Runner" was removed from schools in 10 districts; "Bluest Eye," 12; "The Hate U Give," 11; and "Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation," four.

But by PEN America’s standards of what constitutes a "ban," three other titles qualify, based on its index of school book bans and a press release about Collier County’s removals:

  • "To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee’s 1960 novel that contains racial slurs, was temporarily pulled from Palm Beach County schools for review in July 2022. The book was returned to classrooms with "instructional statements" on how to use the book in the classroom, PEN said.
  • "The Hill We Climb," Amanda Gorman’s poem that was read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, was banned in Miami-Dade County, PEN America said. PolitiFact reported in May that the book, which had been available to all students, was moved to eighth grade shelves at one school’s library and wasn’t banned countywide. 
  • "The Fault in Our Stars," John Green’s young adult novel about a romance between two cancer-stricken teenagers, was pulled pending an investigation in Clay County. 

A Florida Department of Education spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether the other books Pink listed had been temporarily removed.
"We’re used to ill-informed attacks from California’s liberal elites, and sadly, this is another example," said Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., in a statement the spokesperson provided to PolitiFact. He said "several of the books on her list are actually required reading in Florida."

Three books Pink cited — "To Kill a Mockingbird," "1984" and Anne Frank’s "Diary of a Young Girl" — are listed in the department’s guide to Florida’s English Language Arts educational standards as examples of books "by authors whose works comprise a rich literary tradition, a tradition with which all students should become familiar."

We did not find "A Catcher in the Rye," "1984" or "Girls Who Code" on lists from the state, Collier County or PEN America.

Our ruling
Pink claimed in an X post that 13 books "have been banned from schools in Florida."

Different groups define book bans differently, and no single book she cited was banned statewide. We don’t see any records of Florida schools removing three of the titles Pink listed.

Our review found that seven of the books have been removed from at least one Florida school district’s shelves, according to state and Collier County reports. Using PEN America’s broader definition of a book ban, which includes temporary holds, three more books could be said to have been banned. That means seven to 10 of the 13 books Pink cited could be considered banned.

But Pink’s post could give the impression that these books were fully banned from all Florida schools. In reality, these books were removed from schools in four of the state’s 67 districts by the state’s count, 17 districts by PEN’s count. Pink later clarified that some of the books were banned in one or more Florida school districts.

The original statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

We rate Pink’s claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact Staff Writers Amy Sherman and Samantha Putterman contributed to this report.

Our Sources

Jeff Cercone is a staff writer for PolitiFact.
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