A K-8 school in Miami-Dade County last month issued restrictions for elementary-aged students on three books and one poem after a parent objected to five titles, claiming they included topics that were inappropriate for students and should be removed “from the total environment.”
The move — which allows for middle school students at the school to access the titles — is the latest example of districts and schools across the state restricting or removing books from libraries in recent months.
For Stephana Ferrell, the director of research and insight at Florida Freedom to Read Project, it underscores a growing trend to redefine what is considered age appropriate, “especially regarding books that address ethnicities, marginalized communities, racism or our history of racism.”
“Books written for students grades K-5 are being pushed to middle school [libraries and] out of reach for the students they were intended for,” she said. The books aren’t being banned from the district, she argued, “but they’re banned for the students they were intended for.”
The challenges were “school-level only” and “impact one school,” district staff said in an email Monday.
In March, Daily Salinas, a parent of two students at Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, challenged “The ABCs of Black History,” “Cuban Kids,” “Countries in the News Cuba,” the poem “The Hill We Climb,” which was recited by poet Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, and “Love to Langston” for what she said included references of critical race theory, “indirect hate messages,” gender ideology and indoctrination, according to records obtained by the Florida Freedom to Read Project and shared with the Miami Herald.
In an interview with the Herald on Monday, Salinas said she “is not for eliminating or censoring any books.” Instead, she wants materials to be appropriate and for students “to know the truth” about Cuba, she said in Spanish.
A school materials review committee — composed of three teachers, a library media specialist, a guidance counselor and the school’s principal, among others — however, determined one book, “Countries in the News Cuba,” was “balanced and age appropriate in its wording and presentation” and would remain available for all students.
The four other titles were deemed “better suited” or “more appropriate” for middle school students, despite acknowledging that at least one book, “The ABCs of Black History,” was written for ages 5 and up. The books would be kept in the middle school section of the media center, the review concluded.
The committee did not include examples of what the reviewers considered inappropriate for elementary students but “more appropriate” for middle schoolers. When asked to provide examples, district officials said staff was not involved in the committee review and therefore “cannot speak to the intent, reasoning or provide examples.”
Salinas, for her part, also questioned the reasoning behind why some books remain available for middle schoolers. She argued the books should have been removed for all students. School libraries are meant “to support the curriculum of the school and I don’t see how these books support the curriculum,” she said.
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Roberto Alonso, school board member for District 4 where Bob Graham Education Center is located, did not respond to a phone call request for comment.
Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a slew of education bills into law, including the Parental Rights in Education law, which critics dubbed Don’t Say Gay. The law prohibits instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and must be age appropriate for older students.
Since then, there’s been an increase of book challenges filed across the state — even as DeSantis and his administration maintain that book removal efforts are a “hoax.”
In Miami-Dade, only two other informal challenges have been raised, but were resolved “between the principal and the parent without the need to escalate to a formal challenge,” according to staff.
In Pinellas County schools, for example, Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” was removed after a parent informally complained about a rape scene in its pages. In April, though, a committee recommended it be available to students in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 with no parental permission requirements, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
In February, the Martin County School District removed more than 80 books from middle and high schools, according to TCPalm. More recently, the free-speech organization PEN America and Penguin Random House, an American book publisher, filed a lawsuit against the Escambia County School District and school board for violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution for disproportionately targeting books that address topics such as race, racism, gender and sexuality.
As of March, 175 books have been removed across the state, according to PEN America.
For Ferrell, of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, the challenges seen in Miami-Dade and across the state are the result of the lack of guidance from the state around what is or isn’t age-appropriate.
People think the Parental Rights in Education law is intended to “eliminate representation, and they’re filing challenges,” she said.
“We’re seeing these topics pushed [away] from our kids at a time when they’re most accepting of our differences,” she said. “This is the time to address the rougher topics in an age appropriate way. Instead, those books are not available to them.”
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