New report identifies Duval County as hot spot for school book challenges, district pushes back

Jacksonville, Fla. — School districts in Northeast Florida have pulled more than 180 books from school library shelves.

That’s according to a new report by PEN America.


According to the report, Florida is second only to Texas when it comes to banning books in schools.

The report identified 801 banned books across 22 Texas school districts.

In Florida, 566 books across 21 school districts were designated as banned by the report, and Duval County makes up nearly one third of those books.

The new PEN America report identified two banned books in Clay County, six in St. Johns County and 176 in Duval County Public Schools.

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You can find a complete list of the books identified in the report here.

The bulk of the books have LGBTQ and multicultural themes.

There are also others like the book Lucky, which is designated as banned in both Clay and St. Johns counties.

That book is a memoir of a rape survivor.

We headed to the public library downtown and tracked down the first two books listed as banned in Duval that we could find.

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The first, Chik Chak Shabbat, is about a Jewish holiday and the second, The Gift of Ramadan, is about a Muslim holiday.

“I think there’s no question that a lot of books are being swept up in this,” said Jonathan Friedman, Director of Free Expression and Education at PEN America.

Friedman helped author the report.

He noted the data was collected between July 2021 and June of this year, before three new state laws aimed at limiting certain school curriculum and increasing curriculum transparency went into effect.

“Although there were other eras in American history when people circulated lists of books, they weren’t as long as what we’re seeing now, they weren’t as focused on rooting out particular identities,” said Friedman.

Duval County Public Schools is pushing back, however.

The district said the books aren’t banned, but they’ve also never been on school library shelves.

“To clarify, the books in question have not been banned or challenged in our district. The books are pending review. Last year, the district ordered a collection of Essential Voices K-5 classroom library books that included many substitute titles that must be reviewed to ensure the material is grade level appropriate,” said DCPS spokesperson Sonya Duke-Bolden in an emailed statement.

Tiffany Justice, co-founder of Moms For Liberty, a group that advocates for parents rights in education, argued there’s nothing wrong with more scrutiny on learning materials.

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“And I think everyone needs to be paying attention. These are important conversations for people to be having at the local school district. And if you see books that are being pulled for review and you have a concern that it’s not a book that should be pulled, I think you need to have your voice heard,” said Justice.

But Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association, argues the power over curriculum has shifted too far out of the hands of educators.

He claims districts are under constant fear of potential lawsuits due to changes in state law.

“Anyone, even without kids in the school system, can say they don’t want kids reading books about some topic or with certain characters because they object to it,” said Spar.

DCPS indicated due to staffing shortages its review of the books in question will take longer than anticipated.

We asked for a full list of the books under review and an expected completion date, but didn’t hear back in time for this story.

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