The Escambia County School District in Florida has come under fire after it removed over 2,800 books from its libraries, including dictionaries, over concerns that they may violate a state law signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.
The law, HB 1069, grants residents the right to demand the removal of any library book depicting or describing sexual conduct, as defined under Florida law.
The news was broken by Judd Legum, a journalist with Popular Information who observed that sadly this is "not a parody."
Among the removed books are dictionaries such as the American Heritage Children's Dictionary, Webster's Dictionary for Students, and Merriam-Webster's Elementary Dictionary. The district's librarians were required to conduct a review of all library books to identify titles that may violate the law. The slow and ongoing review process has left many school libraries closed, with fewer than 100 texts going through the final review.
The dictionaries, along with other removed books, are being scrutinized based on the broadly defined parameters of HB 1069. The dictionaries were locked away, raising concerns about the law's impact on academic resources. While dictionaries indeed contain descriptions of sexual conduct, critics argue that excluding them from schools seems illogical.
The review process involved a checklist for district staff to determine whether a book should be withheld from students. The checklist suggests consulting Book Looks, a right-wing website associated with groups like Moms for Liberty. The Florida Freedom to Read Project obtained a copy of the checklist, revealing the criteria used to assess books.
The situation in Escambia County challenges DeSantis' dismissal of concerns about book removals as a "leftist activist hoax." The reality contradicts his statements, with over ten times the initially reported number of books removed in Escambia County alone. Orange County, which includes Orlando, has also removed at least 678 books from library shelves.
Many have condemned the school district's move and hit back at DeSantis' policies.
Besides dictionaries, the removed books include encyclopedias, thesauruses, and biographies of prominent figures like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Nicki Minaj, and Thurgood Marshall.
Classic texts such as Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, The Adventures and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and novels by Stephen King have also been taken off the shelves. The removals extend to books popular on the political right, including Atlas Shrugged and works by commentator Bill O'Reilly.
The actions by the Escambia County School Board have led to legal challenges.
Penguin Random House, five authors, two parents of Escambia County students, and the non-profit group PEN America filed a lawsuit alleging that the board's actions violate the First Amendment. The lawsuit is connected to decisions made prior to the passage of HB 1069 to permanently ban several books from Escambia schools.