Florida leads nation in school book bans, free speech organization says

More than 1,400 books removed from Florida schools, according to PEN America report
Books in the media center of a Florida public school during the 2022-23 academic year.jpg
Posted at 6:38 AM, Sep 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-22 06:38:52-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — What your kids read in school is top of mind for any parent.

A new report from free speech organization PEN America shows Florida now leads the country in school book bans.


The PEN America report shows a 33% increase in book bans this past school year compared to the year before. More than 40% of those bans happened in Florida, followed by Texas and Missouri.

The report shows more than 3,000 instances of book bans, including more than 1,500 unique book titles.

PEN America defines a book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content that leads it to being either completely removed or restricted, even if temporarily.

The organization tallied more than 1,400 book ban cases in Florida.

One of the report's lead authors at PEN America told WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind what stands out about our state in this year's report.

"Our continued sense is that Florida is offering the playbook. And we begin to see more and more of the strategies and tactics and pieces of legislation that are at play in Florida pop up in other states and other districts," said Kasey Meehan, the program director for Freedom To Read at PEN America.

Meehan added that what we're seeing in Florida is a "well-coordinated campaign against certain types of books in schools."

"Overwhelmingly removed in Florida or targeted for removal are books with LGBTQ+ characters and books that have characters of color, talk about race and racism, and increasingly books that depict any sort of sexual experiences," Meehan said.

Meehan noted there are two pressures converging on Florida public school districts.

"We see the influence of local groups and local actors who have campaigns that are working to restrict certain kinds of books, coupled with, or sort of in convergence with state legislation," Meehan said.

Across our area, the Martin County School District has removed the most books with 96 titles at last check.

St. Lucie Public Schools has removed one book, while the School District of Indian River County has removed at least 43 books, with its process ongoing.

School district in Palm Beach and Okeechobee counties have not banned any books.

Many of the efforts to remove books from Florida schools are lead by Moms For Liberty chapters across the state.

In response to the PEN America report, Moms For Liberty co-founders Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice released the following written statement to WPTV:

"Why does PEN America oppose parental rights? That’s the real question. Parents have a process where they can ask questions about the age-appropriateness of material being made available to their children in public school. That is a first amendment right guaranteed by the Constitution. Parents get to ask questions about books in Florida. The State gets to review it. What’s sad is that so many books in elementary schools contain graphic animations about sex acts. Why does PEN America need children in public school to access blatant pornography? Even the reporters we show some of these books to, including CBS Sunday Morning, told us their media outlet was not allowed to display the inappropriate content because they would be fined by the FCC."

To read the full PEN America report, click here.