The dictionary pulled from Florida school district due to Ron DeSantis book ban law

A picture of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who signed a controversial book ban law, wears a suit and tie as he speaks into a microphone

A Florida school district pulled multiple dictionaries and other reference materials off library shelves due to their descriptions of “sexual conduct” to comply with a Ron DeSantis’ book ban law.

Escambia County School District reportedly removed five dictionaries and eight encyclopaedias – including The American Heritage Children’s DictionaryWebster’s Dictionary for Students and Merriam-Webster’s Elementary Dictionary – from its collections after determining the titles could violate the state’s new law banning “sexual content” from schools, according to PEN America

The Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not were removed from schools in Escambia County. 

The school district contended that the reference books could violate Florida’s controversial HB 1069 bill, which DeSantis signed into law in May last year. The law grants parents and local residents a powerful mechanism to have books removed from school libraries within their district if they contain depictions or descriptions of sexual conduct. 

Dictionaries and other reference texts, which are full of definitions for sex-related works, have now fallen foul of the effort to ban books in Florida.

PEN America, a nonprofit that raises awareness for the protection of free expression through the advancement of literature and human rights, noted the Florida district’s banned book list includes over 1,600 books pending investigation in December.

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The Escambia County School District also restricted biographies of figures like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Nicki Minaj and Thurgood Marshall alongside a plethora of classic novels and comics.

An Escambia County School District spokesperson argued in a statement to The Messenger that the “1000+ books” mentioned by PEN America haven’t “been banned or removed from the school district”. 

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Instead they’ve been “pulled for further review to ensure compliance with the new legislation”. 

PEN America joined students, parents, book publishers and authors in a federal lawsuit against the book bans by the Escambia County School District. 

In a press release published Tuesday (9 January), before opening statements for the legal battle, PEN America’s Florida director Katie Blankenship said school libraries are “not state propaganda centres”

“They are meant to be sites of inquiry, where students can encounter a diverse range of ideas, gain access to information, and inspire discussion, debate, creativity and critical thinking,” Blankenship said. 

“We will not stand by as these critical spaces are undermined by political agendas and censorship.”

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