Parents from Penguin Random House, Florida, sue school district over book bans

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Penguin Random House, authors, parents, and a free speech group filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against a Florida school district for removing 10 books related to race and the LGBTQ community after a high school teacher complained.

In addition to the publisher, PEN America, a nonprofit group that advocates for free expression in literature, five authors whose books have been removed from the district and two parents whose children attend school in the district filed the lawsuit against the Escambia County. Escambia County School District and School Board in Pensacola, Florida.

All Boys Aren’t Blue, a memoir manifesto by LGBTQIA activist George M. Johnson.Stock Photo from Alamy

The plaintiffs alleged that the district and board violated the First Amendment by “depriving students of access to a wide range of viewpoints and depriving the authors of the withdrawn and restricted books of the opportunity to engage with readers and disseminate your ideas to your recipients. hearings.”

They also argued that the removals violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment “because the books that are selected for possible removal are disproportionately books by non-white and/or LGBTQ authors, or that address issues related to race or LGBTQ identity.” ”.

“This is not an accident,” the lawsuit alleged. “The clear agenda behind the campaign to remove the books is to categorically remove all discussion of racial profiling or LGBTQ issues from public school libraries. Government action cannot be based on such discriminatory motivations.»

Neither the district nor the school board immediately responded to requests for comment.

The plaintiffs allege that a campaign to restrict access to books in the Escambia County School District began last May after Vicki Baggett, a language arts teacher at the district’s Northview High School, questioned «The advantages of being An Outcast» by Stephen Chbosky. Baggett expanded her effort in the fall and challenged over 100 books for «questionable content», prompting a book purge in the district, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

Baggett did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since last May, the district and school board have removed or indefinitely restricted access to five books by the plaintiff authors: Sarah Brannen’s «Uncle Bobby’s Wedding,» George M. Johnson’s «All Boys Aren’t Blue,» “Two Kissing Children” by David Levithan, “When Aidan Became a Brother” by Kyle Lukoff and “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez.

The other books removed or restricted indefinitely include Kurt Vonnegut’s «Slaughterhouse-Five,» Khaled Hosseini’s «The Kite Runner,» Matt de la Peña’s «Milo Imagines the World,» Toni Morrison’s «The Bluest Eye» and «Push.» by Sapphire. Over 100 other titles are restricted and require parental approval to access.

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement that reading freedom «is guaranteed by the constitution.»

“In Escambia County, state censors are pulling books off the shelves in a deliberate attempt to suppress diverse voices. In a nation built on free speech, this cannot be sustained,” she said. “The Escambia County School District is required by law to return checked or restricted books to library shelves where they belong.”

Lindsay Durtschi, an Escambia County mother and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that ultimately removing the books hurts the children.

“Without diverse representation in literature in school libraries and inclusive dialogue in the classroom, we are doing irreparable damage to the voices and safety of students in Florida,” Durtschi said. “Our children need the adults in their lives to uphold the promise of inclusion and equity.”

in his senior year book censorship reportthe American Library Association documented 1,269 challenges to more than 2,500 books last year, the highest number of book ban attempts since it began tracking such efforts in 2001. Of the 13 books that made it to its list of most challenged books last year, seven titles: including three of the top four, were challenged for having LGBTQ content, it found.

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