(St. Petersburg, Florida) — A group of free expression and anti-censorship groups sent letter to schools across Florida today, alerting them to legal filings by the state’s Attorney General that the “Don’t Say Gay” law doesn’t apply to school libraries.

Although many Florida schools shuttered or restricted their libraries as the school year began, three separate  legal filings by Attorney General Ashley Moody state that the law’s restriction on discussion of sexuality applies only to classroom instruction, not school libraries. The Florida Department of Education has offered no such guidance to schools.

The Florida Freedom to Read Project, PEN America, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), and We Need Diverse Books called on the Florida Department of Education to issue new guidance explaining that distinction to schools, and asked schools to put books back on shelves.

The latest declaration from the Attorney General came in an Aug. 4 motion to dismiss Parnell v. School Board of Lake County, Florida, a lawsuit on this issue. In that motion, Moody stated: “HB 1557’s meaning is clear: It applies to formal classroom instruction, not library books[.] The Attorney General also said that “the Legislature’s decision that certain materials are inappropriate for use in classroom instruction does not mean they are categorically inappropriate in the very different setting of a school library.”

The state made a similar point in lawsuits in Orange and Escambia Counties. In a motion to dismiss Equality Florida v. DeSantis, the state said HB 1557 restricted only classroom instruction. In a motion to dismiss Cousins et. al. v. School Board of Orange County, the state said the law does not require schools to remove LGBTQ content from their libraries.

Therefore, all districts that have removed or grade-restricted school library books in response to HB 1557 must return those books to the shelves and remove restrictions as soon as possible, the anti-book ban organizations said. They invited members of the public to send a letter to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., to demand new guidance for school libraries.

More than two dozen books with LGBTQ+ themes have been removed from Florida school libraries in response to HB 1557, including the picture books And Tango Makes ThreeI Am JazzWhen Aidan Became a BrotherAll Are Welcome, and The Family Book.

“Florida can’t have it both ways,” said Kasey Meehan, PEN America’s Freedom to Read program director. “If the state says the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law doesn’t apply to school libraries when challenged in a lawsuit, it should let school librarians know that the law doesn’t apply.”

“School librarians need guidelines about recent laws introduced in Florida,” said Christine Emeran, NCAC’s Youth Free Expression Program director. She added that “the lack of understanding how Education Code §1001.42 impacts school libraries and collection development poses a significant threat to student’s access to materials in Florida. This alert seeks to clarify the law as educators prepare for a new school year. “

The organizations asked schools to end restrictions on library books simply because they have LGBTQ+ characters, or because they mention racism, discrimination, prejudice, or social justice movements. They also offered assistance to any school that needs help replenishing such titles if they no longer have the books.

“As school stakeholders, we expect clear guidance from the Florida Department of Education to be communicated publicly and in the Library Media Training so that everyone understands our school libraries should remain free of discriminatory limitations,” said Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project.  “Let’s not go another year discriminately limiting access in our libraries to diverse and inclusive stories. Children deserve the opportunity to see their lives reflected in the books they read.”

“Florida students deserve to read books that reflect the diversity of the world around them, and so we’re calling on the Florida Department of Education to return these affected titles to school libraries,” said Caroline Richmond, Executive Director of We Need Diverse Books. “Now more than ever, LGBTQIA+ kids and teens need stories that allow them to feel seen and validated. Books can save lives by showing young readers that they aren’t alone and that they belong — and that they will always matter.”

Read the letter to schools here.

Send a letter to Manny Diaz, Jr.

About the Organizations

Since its inception in 1974, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has functioned as a first responder in protecting freedom of expression, a fundamental human right, and a keystone of democracy. Representing 59 national education, publishing, and arts organizations, NCAC encourages and facilitates dialogue between diverse voices and perspectives, including those that have historically been silenced.

The Florida Freedom to Read Project are Floridians dedicated to protecting students’ rights, particularly the right to access information and ideas in the school library. Florida Freedom to Read Project is an organization made up of thousands of Florida’s public-school parents, educators, and community stakeholders.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Founded by marginalized authors, We Need Diverse Books strives to diversify the publishing industry and make our bookshelves more equitable — all to promote literacy, build empathy, and reduce bias. Established in 2014, WNDB is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports diverse creators, publishing professionals, and educators and students nationwide. Learn more at www.diversebooks.org.