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Florida Schools Rank Second in Protecting Students from Sexually Explicit Books, Report Says

PEN America refers to them as “banned books” – but Florida parents see it differently: They’re protecting their kids from obscene and damaging content.

FLORIDA — Schools in Florida pulled 566 books from school libraries to protect students – the second highest number behind Texas. PEN America, an organization defending the free speech of authors, released a report outlining 21 school districts in the state this past week.

But while PEN America refers to them as “book bans,” parents in Florida are calling the books poison: “Following the breaking down of boundaries, [kids] become much more susceptible to a sex trafficking industry that preys on children and makes millions of dollars here in Hillsborough County. This is poison that will forever plague a generation,” Julie Gebhards told the school board in Hillsborough County as reported by The Florida Standard.


“These are not just individual complaints about books that parents are complaining about because their children are bringing them home,” said Friedman in PEN America’s report. “Overwhelmingly, we are seeing people Google ‘what books have LGBTQ content whatsoever,’ even just a book that has an illustration of a same-sex interracial couple gets thrown onto one of these lists and ends up banned in some districts in Florida.”

Jonathan Friedman, the report’s author and director of free expression and education programs for PEN America, said that the trends show that it was a targeted effort to remove the books.

PEN describes the recent efforts to restrict school books as an “evolving censorship movement.” But parents in Florida have been emboldened by the new laws to speak out against the books at school board meetings across the state.


House Bill 1467, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on March 25, provides a process for parents and community members to select and remove books from school libraries, including school instructional materials.

The Parental Rights in Education bill was signed by DeSantis on March 28 and prohibits instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 in Florida schools. The Palm Beach County School District pulled 31 books earlier this year in anticipation of the new law.

Florida Citizens Alliance was the most prominent group working to remove books that are inappropriate for elementary-age children. The alliance found 58 books they considered “pornographic” and asked Florida's school districts to remove them.

Keith Flaugh, co-founder of the Florida Citizens Alliance, says that teachers cannot give children aspirin without parental permission, “yet we can give them this smut and encourage them to be sexually active,” he said. “The obscenity statutes are pretty clear that this material is in violation of Florida obscenity statutes for minors,” he added.


Nationwide, the top books removed from schools this year include:

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

PEN America’s full list of books removed can be viewed here.