JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A group that advocates for freedom of expression said it found more than 2,500 instances of individual books being banned from school library shelves across the country.
According to PEN America, that included 176 requests to ban books in Duval County, a number that would be the most in the state. News4JAX reported the details of the PEN America report Tuesday morning, but Duval County Public Schools said the report is not true and lacks context.
After requesting more information about the report from the district, a DCPS spokeswoman told News4JAX Tuesday afternoon there are nearly 200 books being reviewed by the district but none of them were challenged by members of the community and the books were never on the library shelves.
All of the books are included in a collection titled “Essential Voices,” a group of books that the publisher says is designed to make libraries more diverse and inclusive.
The titles in the collection include:
- “Pink Is For Boys” by Robb Perlman
- “Dim Sum for Everyone” by Grace Lin
- “At the Mountain’s Base” by Traci Sorrell
The books are set to be available to students in grades K-5, but before they hit libraries, the district said it is independently reviewing all of the books to make sure the material is “grade-level appropriate.”
“Unfortunately, due to staffing shortages, the review process will take longer than anticipated,” the district said.
It’s not clear when that review process will be completed and when the books will be available to students.
The review comes as books in schools, including those with LGBTQ+ themes, have come under intense scrutiny. In St. Johns County, the school board voted last month to keep eight controversial books on school shelves despite another heated debate about their contents. In Clay County, a video clip of a Clay County father speaking at a school board meeting went viral and put the topic of what’s in the county’s school libraries in the national spotlight.
The majority of the book challenges have come from parent-driven efforts from groups like Florida-based Moms for Liberty, which issued a statement to News4JAX about the “Essential Voices” collection in Duval County.
“While we are still pushing for greater transparency from the school district, we are pleased to know that DCPS personnel reviewed the material and made a sound decision regarding age-appropriateness. We hope that in the future the district will review all books before spending our tax dollars on purchasing book collections,” the group said in an emailed statement. “Our Duval chapter is fortunate to have a member who is a retired librarian. We value her input and frequently use her as a resource. Moms for Liberty Duval supports the review of school books for age appropriateness. We do not support book banning.”
According to the district, certified school media specialists will review and approve books being purchased or donated at the school level unless told otherwise by the Florida Department of Education.
Calling it a move toward “curriculum transparency,” Gov. Ron DeSantis in March signed a bill that will continue to intensify scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials.
Under the bill, school boards will be required to adopt procedures that, in part, provide for the “regular removal or discontinuance” of books from media centers based on factors such as alignment to state academic standards. Elementary schools will be required to publish online lists of all materials maintained in school libraries or that are part of school reading lists.
Banned Books Week began on Sunday and will be promoted in bookstores around the country through table displays, posters, bookmarks and stickers and through readings, essay contests and other events highlighting contested works.
To mark the week, San Marco Books and More has window displays showing books that have been banned in the United States and other countries, like “Harry Potter,” “The Color Purple” and “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, along with with a sign that reads “I READ BANNED BOOKS.”
Store manager Desiree Bailey said the debate over banning books can lead to positive conversations.
“In a way, banning a book can be a good thing, because it can open up a conversation either within your family or between friends that you didn’t think you’re going to have,” Bailey said. “They’ve also always said that one of the best things that can happen to a book is if it gets put on the banned book list because everyone wants to read it.”