To comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s (R) book-ban law, a Florida school district has removed The American Heritage Children’s Dictionary, Webster’s Dictionary for Students, and Merriam-Webster’s Elementary Dictionary from its shelves.
Escambia County School District in Florida is making waves and headlines with a list of 2,812 books currently removed from their library shelves until further review. Books including 100 Women Who Made History: Remarkable Women Who Shaped Our World, Africa (Cultural Atlas for Young People), The World Book Encyclopedia, The Guinness Book of World Records, and now the dictionary are among the titles considered not in compliance with House Bill 1069.
House Bill 1069
House Bill 1069, sponsored by Republican Rep. Stan McClain, is intended to bring uniformity across the 67 school districts in Florida when it comes to sex education and what is deemed inappropriate for younger children. It also provides a route for parents, teachers, and concerned citizens to object to books and educational materials children are exposed to.
Don’t Say Gay
House Bill 1069 is an expansion of the Parental Rights in Education law, which many critics have labeled the “Don’t Say Gay Law,” which bans the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida public schools. This law was passed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May 2023.
Abundance of caution
Kasey Meehan, director of Freedom to Read at PEN America, said in a statement, “It’s likely librarians were responding to vague language and responded with extreme caution given the chilled environment in Florida, and especially Escambia School District, over book access.” The district’s rubric includes words such as “‘violence,’ ‘scariness’ and ‘sexual conduct,'” according to Meehan.
Right to read the dictionary
The broad language of the law allowed for dictionaries to be included in the book ban. Words such as “sex” and “sexual conduct” are cited as inappropriate for school-age children.
In a recent TikTok, the ACLU stated, “We can’t believe we have to say this, but students have a right to read the dictionary in school.” On their website, they are also quoted as saying, “As hard as it is to get kids to ‘look it up,’ why make it harder by restricting access to the dictionary?”
Of the 150 book challenges submitted to the Escambia County School District, 100 of those were submitted by English teacher Vicki Baggett. LGBTQ+ and Black authors make up a majority of the books she has crusaded to ban. As if her school district was not enough, Baggett even created a plan to have students help her ban books in other counties.
Popular Information report
“Popular Information reported in January that several of Baggett’s current and former students at Northview High School allege that she ‘openly promoted racist and homophobic beliefs in class.” For example, four former students—including three who spoke to Popular Information on the record—recalled an incident during class where Baggett claimed that ‘it is a sin for races to mix together and that whites are meant to be with whites and blacks are meant to be with blacks.’”
Moms for Liberty, an LGBTQ+ hate group, created Book Looks as a resource to find book content they find objectionable. Many of Baggett’s formal complaints take language directly from the site, which Escambia County School District encourages staff to use as a device to evaluate book appropriateness.
Book publisher Penguin Random House, along with free-speech organization PEN America, authors, and parents have sued the school district for violating the First Amendment. According to the lawsuit, “the removals have disproportionately targeted books by or about people of color and/or LGBTQ people, and have prescribed an orthodoxy of opinion that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”
We bought them
In a motion to dismiss the case, the Board claimed they had not banned any books but rather “removed from its own school libraries [books] that the Board had purchased for those libraries with Board funds. It [has] not prohibit[ed] anyone else from owning, possessing, or reading the book[s].” Board members believe they have the right to decide what their funds are spent on.
U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell II ruled recently to allow the lawsuit to proceed under the First Amendment complaint based on books being banned for ideology and viewpoints. However, the 14th Amendment claim of Equal Protection was dismissed.
Lynn Oberlander of Ballard Spahr, who is representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement, “We are gratified that the Judge recognized that books cannot be removed from school library shelves simply because of the views they espouse, and are looking forward to moving forward with this case to protect the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.”