Florida school district pulls dictionaries for ‘sexual conduct’ descriptions

<span>Photograph: Stephan Savoia/AP</span>
Photograph: Stephan Savoia/AP

A Florida school district is facing a federal lawsuit after it decided to remove copies of dictionaries, encyclopedia and other books because the works included descriptions of “sexual conduct”.

Related: Book bans use ‘parental rights’ as cover to attack civil liberties, Democrat warns

The Escambia county school district, located in Pensacola, Florida, removed several dictionaries and encyclopedias from school libraries after school officials determined that the books violated Florida law HB 1069.

The law, signed by the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, last year, restricts access to materials containing “sexual conduct” in Florida classrooms.

During the district’s 2023 summer break, officials removed at least eight encyclopedias and five dictionaries.

District officials also removed copies of The Guinness Book of World Records, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a book for children that highlights unusual stories and “hair-raising oddities”, according to the book’s description.

Other removed titles include biographies on Thurgood Marshall, the first Black supreme court justice, and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl.

In total, more than 1,600 books were removed, according to a press release from Pen America, an organization advocating for freedom of speech and access to literature. The list of removed titles was provided by the Florida Freedom to Read Project, an organization challenging book bans and censorship in the state.

Pen America, publisher Penguin Random House and several authors have filed a federal lawsuit against the school district, alleging that the ban violates free speech.

On Wednesday, a judge ruled that the lawsuit could move forward after finding the suit had standing.

In a statement following Wednesday’s ruling, Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America’s Florida chapter, called for the books to be returned.

“These books need to be returned to the shelves where they belong, and every day that students are refused access is a day they’re not getting the high-quality education they deserve,” Blankenship said.

Other advocacy groups have decried the far-reaching book ban. In a statement to the Guardian, the Florida Education Association (FEA) said the latest ban directly comes from state lawmakers focused on “political wins and supporting fringe anti-education groups”.

“When leaders make policy decisions that are focused on political wins and supporting fringe anti-education groups instead of what is right for teachers, parents and students, we end up with situations like this – where our state goes from banning books to banning words,” the group said in a statement.

Escambia county school district officials have said the books were not actually banned, but “pulled for further review to ensure compliance with the new legislation”, in a statement to the Messenger.

But less than 100 books have been reviewed thus far, the Messenger reported.

Across the country, book bans have increased amid restrictive education laws, particularly in Republican-led states. Texas, Virginia and Florida have banned the most books, US News & World Report said.