Students protest Florida education policy

Students are pictured at a rally protesting Florida education policies outside Orlando City Hall on April 21, 2023 in Orlando, Florida.

(Photo: Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Florida Parents Sue DeSantis Administration Over Book Ban Law

One of the plaintiffs said the Republican-authored law "is an attempt to steal important decisions away from parents."

Parents of students in Florida public schools sued the state's Board of Education on Thursday over a Republican-authored law allowing school district parents and residents to object to reading materials and force their removal from classrooms and libraries.

Three Florida parents joined the lawsuit, which was filed on their behalf by Democracy Forward, the ACLU of Florida, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The complaint argues that the law, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, benefits only parents who "hold the state's favored viewpoint: agreement with removing books and other material from schools, and disagreement with (and therefore seeking review of) decisions to retain books and other material."

"Parents who seek to retain materials, a viewpoint disfavored by the state, are excluded from the state review process," the complaint states. "Because H.B. 1069 and its implementing regulations provide a benefit—access to the state review process and the corresponding opportunity to petition the state through an administrative system that can provide a remedy—differently depending on a parent's perspective, they violate the First Amendment's ban on viewpoint discrimination, and should be invalidated."

Stephana Ferrell, one of the parent plaintiffs, said in a statement Thursday that the law "is an attempt to steal important decisions away from parents and allows those with a strong desire to withhold critical information on a variety of age-relevant topics to decide what books our kids have access to."

Ferrell joined the lawsuit after her request to review a decision by her child's school district to remove a book was denied. H.B. 1069 "requires sex ed programs to teach that sex is determined by reproductive function at birth and is binary and unchangeable and to use only materials approved by the state Department of Education," the ACLU of Florida explains.

"The state of Florida should not be able to discriminate against the voices of parents they disagree with," Ferrell added. "I deserve an equal voice in my child's education as any other parent."

Under DeSantis' leadership, Florida has banned books more aggressively than any other U.S. state in recent years. According to PEN America's latest report, 3,135 book bans were recorded across 11 school districts in fall of 2023.

"In Collier County, Florida, one book about sexual violence, Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr, was removed under H.B. 1069," PEN noted. "The law makes it easier to pull a book that 'depicts or describes sexual conduct' from school shelves; because of the lack of clarity around how to implement the law, the book was banned despite the fact that the rape at the center of the narrative is never directly described."

Samantha Past, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida, said Thursday that the state "has become a national leader in book banning, garnering mass attention for the unprecedented number of books that have been removed from our public schools."

"A review process that is available only to parents with certain viewpoints violates the First Amendment," said Past. "Denying parents an appropriate avenue to challenge censorship is undemocratic, and stifling viewpoints the state disagrees with is unlawful. Ultimately, these actions perpetuate the statewide attack on members of the Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ communities in an attempt to erase them from our history books."

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