Report: FL ranked No. 2 in challenges and bans of school library books last year

PEN America: ‘This kind of embrace of censorship for us is alarming’

By: - September 22, 2022 2:15 pm
Banned books

Banned books display. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Three Florida school districts drew nearly 400 book bans or challenges between them during the 2021-22 school year, according data from a nationwide free-speech advocacy group.

According to PEN America’s “Index of School Book Bans,” gathering data between July 1, 2021 and June 30 this year, the Duval County school district in Northeast Florida saw 176 book challenges or bans. There were 161 book bans or challenges in the Indian River school district on the Atlantic Coast, and Walton County in the Panhandle saw 58 book bans or challenges.

That adds up to 395 challenges in those counties alone, constituting about 69.7 percent of all book bans or challenges documented in Florida, according to the report.

Pulitzer-prize winning novels, summer reading list staples, and children’s books, among many others, are caught in the crossfire between so-called parental rights to direct the education of their children and fears of depriving students of the opportunity to intellectually explore challenging topics through books — including unflattering depictions of American history, LGBTQ+ issues, sexual violence, and suicide.

According to PEN America, Florida saw the second-most number of documented book bans and challenges among the 50 states, with 566 individual challenges. Texas led the nation with 801 challenges.

PEN America has documented some 2,500 book bans and challenges across the United States, occurring in 140 school districts across 32 states during the 2021-22 school year.

In Florida, the 566 book bans or challenges resulted in 411 individual titles being withdrawn from ready access for students in schools in some capacity.

The report follows increased scrutiny over what materials and books are readily available in Florida classrooms and libraries. During the 2022 legislative session, state lawmakers provided parents greater opportunities to challenge and scrutinize books offered in classrooms and libraries, which critics believe will lead to even more book bans.

‘Impulse to silence’

“What we’ve seen over the last year and a half is a spread of the impulse to silence,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a written statement.

“It now really cuts across the spectrum, and we’ve seen the invocation of the power of the state, whether it’s school boards or actual state legislatures, making laws that restrict what can be taught in curriculum, in schools in higher education, and increasingly in the area of book bans. This kind of embrace of censorship for us is alarming.”

Here is a sampling of some of the most challenged book titles in Florida last school year, according to a Phoenix analysis of PEN America’s data:

  • “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, a series of essays reflecting the life of the author, who is Black and nonbinary. The book has been challenged in seven Florida school districts.
  • “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, who died in 2019, have been challenged in seven  Florida counties. Morrison earned the Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved” in 1988.
  • “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult, which centers the events of a school shooting, was challenged or banned in seven counties.
  • “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, which depicts police violence against Black characters and focuses on race relations, has been challenged or banned in eight school districts.
  • “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, which depicts the story of a high-school student’s suicide and was adapted into a Netflix TV show, has been banned or challenged in eight school districts.

The numbers

Here is the breakout of the number of book bans or challenges throughout Florida. In all, Florida has 67 traditional school districts.

County Number
Duval County Public Schools 176
Indian River County School District 161
Walton County School District 58
Brevard Public Schools 42
Lee County Schools 30
St. Lucie Public Schools 20
Polk County Public Schools 16
Jackson County School District 14
Santa Rosa County District Schools 9
St. Johns County School District 6
Broward County Public Schools 5
Hernando School District 5
Osceola County School District 5
Flagler Schools 4
Orange County Public Schools 4
Palm Beach County School District 3
Sarasota County School 3
Clay County District Schools 2
Lake County Schools 1
Pinellas County Schools 1
Volusia County Schools 1

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.