Book bans instituted by Florida’s Escambia County School District and its school board violated the First and 14th Amendments, according to a lawsuit brought by authors, parents, publishing giant Penguin Random House and PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for free expression.
Filed Wednesday, the lawsuit claims the district removed books from public school libraries based on disagreements with ideas expressed in those books while ignoring the proper processes to remove books from shelves. These decisions have discriminated against people of color and LGBTQ+ people, the lawsuit says.
Among books removed by the district are "All Boys Aren't Blue" — journalist and activist George M. Johnson’s memoir of growing up Black and gay — and Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye."
The state of Florida and many of its school districts have been at the forefront of growing efforts nationwide to ban books from libraries and curricula. Education and free expression advocates have warned for years that these efforts disproportionately harm minority students.
As a result, lawsuits challenging school districts' decisions to remove books from shelves have been anticipated since these efforts began.
With its involvement of a major publishing company, the lawsuit against Escambia is among the first of its kind.
Escambia County School District's decision to ban books amount to censorship and "are a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights,” said Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, in a statement on Wednesday. The company expressed solidarity with teachers, librarians, parents and authors.
PEN America, which has tracked curriculum restrictions since January 2021, has counted 4,000 individual book bans nationwide between July 2021 and December 2022.
An April report from the organization showed book bans during the first half of the current school year outpaced those from spring 2022. The report also found that bans this school year were driven by district responses to state legislation.
Earlier this year, for example, Florida's Board of Education unanimously approved media training for teachers with classroom libraries, librarians, media specialists and others choosing materials and curricula, urging them to "err on the side of caution" when choosing reading materials.
That decision was in response to state laws restricting curriculum on LGBTQ+ and race-related subjects.
In its April report, PEN America also found Florida among states where book bans were most prevalent. Other top states included Texas, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina.
The Escambia County School District declined to comment on pending litigation.