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Florida School District Removes Dictionaries and Encyclopedias for Sexual Content Review

In a move that has sparked concern and controversy, the Escambia County School District in Florida has removed hundreds of books, including dictionaries and encyclopedias, from school shelves. 

The decision comes as part of a review process mandated by Florida’s House Bill 1069, which requires the suspension of materials alleged to contain “pornography or obscene depictions of sexual conduct.” 

Review Process and Book Removal

This legislation, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, went into effect on July 1, 2023, and is now being scrutinized for its impact on educational resources.

The school district compiled a list of over 1,600 books for further review by media specialists to determine if they should be permanently removed. 

Among the materials flagged for potential banning are five dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster’s Elementary Dictionary, and eight encyclopedias. 

The extensive review aims to ensure compliance with the controversial legislation, which has raised concerns about the potential chilling effect on academic freedom.

House Bill 1069 has been criticized for creating an environment where caution prevails, leading to the removal of books even before a thorough assessment. Kasey Meehan, program director for PEN America’s Freedom to Read project, expressed alarm over the situation, highlighting the pullback of dictionaries under a law designed to restrict sexual content in schools. 

The impact of this legislation, combined with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 1557), has disproportionately affected books related to people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.

The Florida Freedom To Read Project criticized the review in Escambia as “ridiculous,” attributing the situation to ambiguous language in the law and irresponsible guidance from the Florida Department of Education. 

National organizations, including PEN America, have been actively challenging these book bans. PEN America filed a complaint last year against the Escambia County School District and the Escambia County School Board, alleging violations of students’ rights to free speech and equal protection under the law. 

Oral arguments for the complaint began on January 10, highlighting the ongoing legal battle over the controversial book removals.

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Florida Book Ban: PEN America Lawsuit Gets Green Light from Federal Judge

In a move that has sparked concern and controversy, the Escambia County School District in Florida has removed hundreds of books, including dictionaries and encyclopedias, from school shelves.

While parents and national organizations continue to fight against book bans in Florida, a federal district judge ruled this week that another lawsuit from PEN America challenging the removal of books about race and the LGBTQ+ community could move forward. 

The controversy surrounding the removal of books in Florida raises crucial questions about the balance between censorship concerns and preserving the right to education and diverse perspectives.

The removal of books in the Escambia County School District underscores the ongoing debate surrounding legislation like House Bill 1069 and its impact on academic freedom. As legal challenges unfold, the broader implications for educational resources and the diversity of voices within school curricula remain at the forefront of the discussion.

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