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School district in Florida bans book titled “Ban this book”

(NewsNation) – A Florida school district voted in May to ban a book about banning books – and the irony was not lost on critics of the move.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that the Indian River County School Board voted 3-2 to remove “Ban This Book” by Alan Gratz, defying the district’s book review committee’s decision to keep the book.

The novel was written in 2017 and is about a fourth-grade girl who sets up a secret library of forbidden books in her locker after “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler of EL Konigsburg is contested by a parent.

“Ban this Book” has itself been challenged by Jennifer Pippin, chair of the Indian River chapter of Moms for Liberty, according to The Tallahassee Democrat. Moms for Liberty is considered a “far-right,” “extremist” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, though its leaders reject that label. Originally, the group gained popularity by protesting COVID-19 mask and vaccination requirements at school board meetings before turning its attention to “fighting inclusive education and LGBTQ acceptance,” the SPLC writes. One of Moms for Liberty’s main focuses is to ask schools to remove novels they deem “inappropriate” from their shelves, though they claim they are not trying to ban books.

Two of the three board members who voted to repeal “Ban this Book” were supported in their campaigns by Moms for Liberty, the Tallahassee Democrat wrote, while the third “yes” came from Kevin McDonald, who was appointed to the position by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

In an interview with USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida, Alan Gratz, author of “Ban this Book,” said school board members banned the book precisely because of its subject matter.

“You get the feeling they know exactly what they're doing, but they're a little ashamed of it and don't want to have a book on the shelves that exposes them,” Gratz said.

Reaction to the ban on the book

McDonald said the title and subject matter of Gratz's novel “challenge our authority” and reference other works deemed inappropriate by school boards, including those in Indian River County.

“They are not just mentioned, they are listed,” he said at a school board meeting, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

However, school board chairwoman Teri Barenborg pointed out that the book itself neither depicts nor describes sexual encounters. Gratz said his book does not teach “rebellion against the school board,” but civic engagement.

“If that means opposing what your school board is doing, then that means opposing what your school board is doing,” he told USA TODAY.

The Florida Freedom to Read Project condemned the school district's decision to ban Gratz's book, pointing out that the book review committee wanted to keep it.

“They banned a book because it mentions other banned books,” the group wrote on X. “This is really absurd.”

The District Book Review Committee's written comments were mostly positive, stating that Gratz had handled the subject well.

“The selection of this book as the first material officially reviewed by this committee illustrates the irony of the situation better than any lecture I have ever given,” wrote one committee member.

A document obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat shows that the Indian River County School District has banned more than 140 books following objections.

Book bans in the United States

PEN America released a report in April saying Florida was responsible for 72% of the books removed from the nation's schools during the first semester of the current school year. Most of them deal with LBTQ+ identities, feature characters of color, address race and racism or “contain depictions of sexual experiences in the broadest sense of that understanding,” said Kasey Meehan, program director of Pen America's Freedom to Read.

Blame has been placed on a law signed by DeSantis that makes it easier to challenge books in schools, although the governor argues he is only trying to “empower parents.” Earlier this year, he signed a bill that narrowed the focus of a law that allowed any person to challenge books as many times as they wanted, regardless of whether they were a parent in the school district or even a resident. The new law limits those without students in a school district to one book challenge per month.

Efforts to ban books have spread across the country, with a report from the American Library Association released in March saying the effort reached “record levels” last year.

The ALA report found that 4,240 books in school and public libraries were affected by censorship in 2023, a 65% increase from 2,571 books in 2022.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, told NewsNation that this is the highest number the association has recorded since it began collecting data two decades ago.

NewsNation digital reporter Safia Samee Ali and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Anna Harden

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