Florida Superintendent Orders Ban on All Books Judged ‘Inappropriate’

Original Article

By Maren Williams

In response to a draconian censorship directive recently issued by the superintendent of schools in Dixie County, Florida, CBLDF this week joined with other member organizations of the Kids’ Right to Read Project in defending vast swathes of library and classroom materials in the district. The order from Superintendent Mike Thomas targets for removal any library materials, textbooks, or supplemental texts that contain “profanity, cursing, or inappropriate subject matter.”

It is unclear exactly what prompted Thomas’ action at this time, but if followed to the letter it would undoubtedly decimate both curricula and library collections. For just a small taste of the impact, consider the four books on the district’s summer reading list for 8th graders:

As the linked titles show, at least three out of four books on the list have been considered “inappropriate” at one time or another. Lord of the Flies and Summer of My German Soldier have both been challenged specifically for profanity among other complaints, while The Graveyard Book has been targeted due to violence. (Although Dixie County students were assigned to read the original prose novel, the graphic novel adaptation of Gaiman’s book was also challenged for violent imagery in 2015.)

The list above represents the only glimpse of curriculum that we were able to locate on Dixie District Schools website, and 75% of it would be wiped out by Thomas’ order. Now extrapolate that to the even more challenging and “mature” books that surely must be assigned to older students and available in library collections. The impact would be unfathomable–not to mention that such a content-based purge would be highly unconstitutional!

In the letter sent to Thomas yesterday, we outlined the wide variety of materials that could fall afoul of his order, judging by past challenges from various locations:

Excluding material because it may be subjectively considered ‘inappropriate’ and ‘questionable’  potentially affects a wide range of materials that address race, gender, religion, sex, political violence, history, science, politics, the environment, or any other issue on which people may disagree. Books that community members and parents have called inappropriate include Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, because of its depiction of poverty; Native Son by Richard Wright for its depiction of ghetto life; A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck because of its descriptions of farm life; The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank because it is a “real downer”; and a Shel Silverstein poem in A Light in the Attic because it “encourages children to  break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” The September 8 directive provides no definition of, or criteria for determining what subject matter is “inappropriate.” This leaves teachers and librarians with no clear guidance and may encourage them to exclude any potentially controversial material from the library or the classroom.

Additionally, the letter points out that the superintendent’s order tramples the district’s own policies regarding selection of educational media (e.g. library) materials and instructional materials, as well as challenges to materials. Thomas claims that his order also reflects the will of the school board, but we hope they will prove him wrong at their next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Below, read the whole letter sent by NCAC and signed by Kids’ Right to Read Project partners CBLDF, the National Council of Teachers of English, American Booksellers for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, PEN America, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.