An example of a book banned in Florida is The Bluest Eye, a Nobel Prize-winning novel by Toni Morrison, pulled from Pinellas County schools without review after a parent complaint.
School districts in Florida are taking wildly varying approaches to a 2022 law that ostensibly, and perhaps ironically, is meant to provide “curriculum transparency.” Ironic, because the law has created so much confusion -- some say intentionally -- as well as fear among teachers and school library staffs.
The law, House Bill 1467, was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. It requires school districts to catalog every book on their shelves and put a formal review process in place for complaints.
Much of the confusion stems from a state Department of Education Training guide on what materials are prohibited in schools because they are considered “harmful to minors.” Critics say the language of DOE’s guide is often confusing and vague, but much of the confusion also seems too stem from the eternal debate, even for the U.S. Supreme Court, about what exactly is pornography.
3 Requirements to Ban Books
The DOE says prohibited materials for minors must meet three requirements. The first condition for being considered pornography harmful to a minor is easy enough to understand: any representation or description of nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement that predominantly appeals to prurient, shameful or morbid interests.
The second condition is a little grayer but still seems possible for reasonable adults to agree upon: “be patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors.”
But what complicates the decision on whether a material should be removed from a school library or classroom is the third requirement that “taken as a whole the material is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”
And the real problem is that a material must meet all three conditions to be banned. So a committee could agree on the first two conditions, but if it found that a book had serious artistic or political value that outweighed some mention of nudity or sexual behavior, then technically it shouldn’t be prohibited under the state rules.
Except that the DOE’s guide also says, “Err on the side of caution.”
Add to that the DOE guide’s explicit reminder that any person who violates this law requiring the banning of books defined as “harmful to minors” can be charged with a third-degree felony, and it’s easy to understand why the law is causing such angst for teachers, school librarians and school districts, especially in districts where overzealous parents groups are interpreting the law to limit all students’ access to ideas with which these parents disagree.
A Primer on the Law and Controversy
The USA Today Network/Florida has published an excellent package on the issue that includes several parts, which we link to here:
A news story – Between the lines: Banned books in Florida schools – that is a good primer on the law and the controversy it has caused in the last year.
A link to the Florida DOE’s Library Media and Instructional Materials Training guide, where the department issues its definitions and guidelines for applying the new law.
A rolling list of books sent for review across Florida school districts.
A link to Florida Freedom to Read project, a non-profit that opposes censorship in public schools.
A link to Florida's Parental Rights in Education law, HB 1557, another 2022 law that critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" law.
A link to Florida DOE's English Language Arts standards, which includes lists of recommended books by grade level. Noteworthy, however, is that some books are included as "exemplary writing" in the DOE English Language Arts standards list, but have been pulled from the shelves by various school districts. Both "Letter from Birmingham Jail," by Martin Luther King Jr., and "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee, are on the state list, but were removed from the shelves in Palm Beach County while they were sent to the state for review. They ultimately were reinstated.