Florida school district sued over book bans

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By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) - The writers' group PEN America, authors and parents on Wednesday sued a Florida school district over its book bans, alleging educators violated the First Amendment right to free speech and their own policies in removing titles from school libraries.

The Escambia County School District and School Board have targeted books dealing with race and LGBTQ issues for removal, depriving students of access to a wide range of viewpoints, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

A spokesperson for the school district said officials were unable to comment on pending legislation.

Book bans have been on the rise across the United States, PEN says, affecting 874 titles in the first half of the 2022-23 school year. The bans are most prevalent in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina and overwhelmingly target stories by and about minorities and LGBTQ people, PEN says.

The Escambia County lawsuit seeks the restoration of removed books back to school libraries, and court costs.

"The School District has been automatically restricting access to any book challenged on the ground that it contains 'sexual' content, regardless of the nature of that content or anything else about the book," the lawsuit alleges.

Banned works include Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five," a picture book "Draw Me A Star" by famed children's author Eric Carle, and "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, plus others that recognize the existence of same-sex relationships, the lawsuit says.

"Of the 197 books targeted for removal in the district, 154 books remain restricted as of this filing, approximately 70%," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit singles out the activism of Northview High School teacher Vickie Baggett, but does not name her as a defendant, for her efforts to remove numerous titles.

Baggett did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chris Reese)