A Miami K-8 school removed four books from its shelves. An advocate says it was censorship

The state's education commissioner countered that 'students still have access ... at the right level ... no books were banned.'

Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

A top advocate with the Florida Freedom to Read Project criticized the decision by one public school to remove Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” from its elementary shelves because a parent claimed it was meant to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.”

“I absolutely believe that this is a form of censorship,” said Raegan Miller, who serves as director of development at the Florida Freedom to Read Project. Miller, who was on WLRN's South Florida Roundup, said the process to remove it, along with several other books, lacked transparency and amounted to censorship.

She questioned why other parents weren't consulted by school officials prior to making the move: “The parents of the school should have been notified that there was a challenge,” Miller said. “All the other parents of the school should have had a seat at the table. They should have been able to voice their opinion.

“If this parent didn't want their child to have access, why is there simply not an opt-out policy for that parent?”

Also on City & State – Bill Cotterell: Censorship doesn’t protect kids. It promotes ignorance

According to the Palm Beach Post, "The poem, which was published into a book, was moved by Bob Graham Education Center officials to only be available to middle school students at the school’s media center. It was removed for pre-K and elementary school students."

In an interview with WLRN, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said the Miami Lakes school was following policy.

“The process worked,” Diaz said. “A parent has the right to make a complaint. But the process was put into effect and it worked where they deemed the proper placement of the books. And the students still have access to it at the right level. And no books were banned.”

Related coverage – State education commissioner defends decision to restrict presidential inauguration poem

The poem was one of four titles placed on a restricted list for elementary students. Among the other books were: “The ABCs of Black History” by Rio Cortez and “Cuban Kids” by George Ancona. The books remain available to students at the school in grades 6-8 even though the parent wanted them removed altogether. 

The Miami Herald reported that the decision was made by a committee of teachers, a media specialist and the school’s principal.

The flurry of removals and reshelvings come in response to new state laws and state policies increasing scrutiny of instructional materials and empowering parents and residents to decide what is considered “appropriate.”

In official guidance issued by the Florida Department of Education earlier this year, state officials warned librarians they could be charged with a crime if they provide books that are deemed “harmful to minors,” a reference to the state’s pornography laws.

According to a review by the free expression advocacy group PEN America, 175 books have been removed from shelves in Florida.

Meantime, the American Library Association says the number of attempted book bans nationwide is the highest on record — and that the “vast majority” of titles being targeted are by or about LGBTQ people and people of color.

WLRN Education Reporter Kate Payne contributed. This story is published as part of a collaboration between City & State Florida and WLRN NewsAmmy Sanchez is a junior at the Honors College at Florida International University, studying organizational communications.

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