The Duval County school district in Florida last month removed a book about Afro-Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente from library shelves for review. The removal of the book, Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates by Jonah Winter and Raúl Colón, made national news, and it was among more than a million titles the district said it is reviewing to adhere to Florida’s laws restricting lessons about race and racism, gender and sexual identity, and requiring school librarians to review books and remove inappropriate content.
The book was allegedly under review because it contained references to the racism Clemente experienced.
But this month, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Manny Diaz, the state education commissioner, blamed districts for overreacting and removing the books, such as the ones about Clemente and another Major League Baseball player, Hank Aaron, in a press conference about “the book banning hoax.” They also denied reports of mass book bans in Florida, and did not address mass removals and reviews of books due to state laws and department of education guidelines.
“Duval County was saying that the book was being banned, and the media was pointing to us, pointing at the governor,” Diaz said.
Last year, books were banned in at least 32 states, including Florida, according to a tracker by PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization. Educators and librarians have consistently said it is states’ restrictive laws and potentially harsh penalties that have caused book bans.
“It’s disingenuous to say that the state’s not responsible when they’ve created laws and regulations that have created an environment of fear, of civil liability, loss of jobs, loss of teaching licenses, if a line is crossed,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
“Certainly the state has a large response to the large share of the responsibility for what is occurring in the school libraries and classrooms in Florida.”
At the press conference, DeSantis, Diaz, and other speakers, which included members of the politically conservative parent group Moms for Liberty, emphasized that the only books that should be banned in Florida will be the ones containing “pornography,” referring to books about LGBTQ topics and sex education books, and books containing banned concepts such as critical race theory, because they promote indoctrination.
The recent rhetoric from DeSantis and Diaz has left teachers and librarians even more confused about what’s allowed in libraries, and what isn’t, according to Reagan Miller, a mom and leader of the Florida Freedom To Read Project, a grassroots parent group that opposes book bans.
“Because the laws are vague, everybody’s confused and everybody’s a little scared,” Miller said. “Everybody’s hearing that there’s a threat of a third degree felony, you could lose your teaching license. Nobody wants that to be them.”