ACLU is helping with claims about censorship in Florida schools

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Marshall Motley Program Scholar Danyelle Honoré is with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and encouraged people to engage friends from diverse backgrounds. By: Josh Holton (6/23/23)

On Friday afternoon the American Civil Liberties Union offered a forum of about 50 Concerned Citizens, teachers, students, lawyers, and media specialists in an effort to address anxieties while encouraging the public to speak out about educational censorship. Legal experts helped shed some light on a litany of legislation passed by the Republican supermajority in the state legislature and championed by presidential hopeful Governor Ron DeSantis, as he has waged a war on “woke” culture while curtailing the ability of teachers to use pronouns, talk about sexual orientation in the classroom and even to keep certain books on their shelves. Katie Blankenship is the deputy Legal Director for the ACLU.

“They want to inform you about what we’re doing, and we want to share with you and build ideas with you about how we can support you and how you support the other counties that are so active in this work.”

Blankenship says they are investigating legal claims in cases where Floridians feel like they have been harmed from a multitude of lawsincluding House Bill 1069, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans teachers and students from using and being called by their preferred pronouns and allows a single county resident even if they have no affiliation with the school to object to any book in school or classroom libraries.

“Were investigating focusing on potential K through 12 claims against, and to stop- permanently block “Stop Woke.” We’re looking at how to permanently stop the “Don’t Say Gay,” but really we’re focusing on 1069 at this point because all it does is expand.”

Nicole St. Leger is with Florida Freedom to Read, and said the book bans have led hundreds of books to being taken off the shelves

“In the last 18 months we have tracked more than 2,500 attempts on over 1,200 titles. 900 of those have either had a temporary or permanent pulling from the shelves. Think about that. 900 books gone”

A black woman in attendance at the meeting Mitzi Mack noted that those in attendance were primarily white.  She’s a media specialist with the Hillsborough County School District and the new law restricting books requires a media specialist like herself to review which books should stay or go. She was at the “Stay Woke” bus tour in Tampa earlier this week, which wrapped up in Jacksonville today. While she liked that they were giving away banned books at the rally. She said a conversation like this, if it were held in East Tampa would ensure equity of information getting out to all members of the community. She said the primary focus of keeping more of these books in question on the shelves is to offer children a mirror through reading.

“This is all about ‘Oh, I want my child to read.’ Not about the race in the book or the content in that book, really. it’s about them, their children seeing themselves, and being engaged enough to interact with that book.”

One such student is freshman Kiersten Lee, who was a freshman at Steinbrenner High School at Hillsborough County Public School. Lee works at an LGBTQ publication on campus called The Echo and said their campus is not backing down.

“We are united as a group of young queer people, and we want to protect ourselves and to protect everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, and we will help however we can. We are with you all.”

The ACLU is asking the public to submit incidents in which somebody may not have been able to find a banned book that they need if it has been removed or if they feel like they or a loved one has been harmed in any way by these new laws. To submit information go to https://action.aclu.org/signup/fl-classroom-censorship-intake.

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