Could book ban lawsuit lead to more legal action against Florida school districts?

PEN America, Penguin Random House suing Escambia County School District over book removal process
A list of books removed from a Florida school district during the 2022-23 academic year.jpg
Posted at 6:25 AM, May 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-19 06:25:55-04

ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. — A lawsuit over school book bans in Florida could set a precedent for more to come in the Sunshine State.

PEN America, a free speech organization, and book publisher Penguin Random House filed suit against the Escambia County School District in the Panhandle for how it removed books from school libraries.

The nearly 60-page lawsuit filed against the school district and school board said the book removal process in the Panhandle district violates the 1st and 14th amendments. The lawsuit is asking for the removed books to be put back on the shelves.


"It's disappointing that we live in a world where we would over-police thought," said Dr. Maria Cole, who leads the Common Purpose Palm Beach County group, bringing people together to fight for issues they believe in, like public education.

Cole believes the lawsuit filed against Escambia County schools could lead to more legal action against book bans in other Florida school districts.

"I think it can and it should," Cole said. "There is such inconsistency with what books are banned across the state."

The lawsuit filed by free speech organization PEN America, publisher Penguin Random House, as well as authors and parents, challenges the process the Escambia County School Board uses to review and remove books.

The lawsuit said the district and board are systematically excluding certain viewpoints and perspectives from school libraries.

"Our focus right now is on addressing the constitutional violations that occurred in Escambia County. We know that Escambia School District and School Board aren’t alone in taking this kind of action, but right now we’re focused on this particular case," said Nadine Farid Johnson, the managing director of PEN America Washington, in a written statement to WPTV.

Reagan Miller with the Florida Freedom To Read project hopes this lawsuit brings about change.

"We're excited for the authors, we're excited for the students, because what we ultimately want is students to be able to access information. And that lawsuit gets to the heart of this," Miller said.

The book ban phenomenon came into the spotlight after new laws in Florida allowed parents to challenge books in school libraries and classrooms, potentially leading to their removal if it's determined they are not appropriate.

Many of the book challenges locally and across the state have come from the conservative group Moms For Liberty.

"Parents, when they send their kids to school, they shouldn't have to worry about this garbage being in the schools. They should know that you are going to get a good education," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference in March.

"It really is soft censorship. Everybody is scared and nobody knows and that's the problem," Miller said.

In a statement, the Escambia County School District told WPTV it does not comment on pending litigation.

Cassie Palelis, the press secretary for the Florida Department of Education, released the following statement to WPTV about the lawsuit:

"Luckily for them, there are no 'book bans' in Florida. Current law requires that materials in schools be age appropriate and not contain adult material such as pornography.

School districts are responsible for reviewing materials and determining which items should be available to students. Pursuant to section 1006.28 (2)(a)1., Florida Statutes, 'Each district school board is responsible for the content of all instructional materials and any other materials used in a classroom, made available in a school library, or included on a reading list, whether adopted and purchased from the state-adopted instructional materials list, adopted and purchased through a district instructional materials program under s. 1006.283, or otherwise purchased or made available.'"