Penguin Random House and Florida parents sue school district over book bans

A selection of books including “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison, that have been the subject of complaints from parents

Rick Bowmer | AP Photo

Penguin Random House, authors, parents and an advocacy group filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a Florida school district for removing 10 books related to race and the LGBTQ community after a high school teacher complained. 

In addition to the publishing house, PEN America, a nonprofit group that advocates for free expression in literature, five authors whose books have been removed from the district, and two parents whose children go to school in the district filed the suit against the Escambia County School District and the Escambia County School Board in Pensacola, Florida.

The plaintiffs alleged that the district and the board violated the First Amendment by “depriving students of access to a wide range of viewpoints, and depriving the authors of the removed and restricted books of the opportunity to engage with readers and disseminate their ideas to their intended audiences.” 

They also argued that the removals violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment “because the books being singled out for possible removal are disproportionately books by non-white and/or LGBTQ authors, or which address topics related to race or LGBTQ identity.”

“This is no accident,” the suit alleged. “The clear agenda behind the campaign to remove the books is to categorically remove all discussion of racial discrimination or LGBTQ issues from public school libraries. Government action may not be premised on such discriminatory motivations.”

Neither the district nor the school board immediately returned requests for comment.

Since last May, the district and the school board have removed or indefinitely restricted access to five books by the author plaintiffs: “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” by Sarah Brannen, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan, “When Aidan Became a Brother” by Kyle Lukoff and “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez. 

The other removed or indefinitely restricted books include “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Milo Imagines the World” by Matt de la Peña, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “Push” by Sapphire.  More than 100 other titles are restricted and require parental approval for access.

 In its latest annual book censorship report, the American Library Association documented 1,269 challenges to more than 2,500 books last year, the highest number of attempted book bans since it began tracking such efforts in 2001. Of the 13 books that made its list of most challenged books last year, seven titles — including three of the top four — were challenged for having LGBTQ content, it found.

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