Publishing Giant Penguin Random House Joins Suit Against Florida School District’s Book Bans


Publishing giant Penguin Random House joined five authors, two parents and free expression organization PEN America in filing a lawsuit Wednesday against a school district in Florida for its removal and restrictions of books by or about people of color and LGBTQ people, saying the district is in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and requesting the books be put back on shelves.

Key Facts

The lawsuit came after a school board in Escambia County, Florida, went against the recommendation of its district to ban or restrict a number of books—with more on a list for immediate review.

The plaintiffs are claiming a First Amendment violation by saying the district is “depriving students of access to a wide range of viewpoints, and depriving the authors … the opportunity to engage with readers,” and a Fourteenth Amendment violation because of the disproportionate number of books depicting people of color and LQBTQ people that have been censored, the lawsuit alleges.

All five authors named as plaintiffs have had their books banned or restricted in the school district. The “school district made clear that its interests are in censoring certain ideas and viewpoints” despite the fact that the district’s policies prevent staff from determining what can be in school libraries “in a narrowly partisan or political manner,” according to a press release from PEN America.

An Escambia County School District spokesperson told Forbes the district is unable to comment on pending litigation.

Key Background

The battle to ban books in public school libraries has been around for decades, but saw a revitalization in the 2021-2022 school year amid concerns that public schools were overstepping their role and educating children about social issues. In that school year alone, PEN America reported there were 1,648 unique book titles banned in 138 school districts across 32 states, impacting around 4 million children. Of those books banned, the organization found 41% had LGBTQ themes or lead characters and 40% had people of color as protagonists or lead characters. The wave of book bans hit some states harder than others, with Texas and Florida seeing the lionshare of bans. The Pensacola News Journal, which covers Escambia County, reported earlier this year that the bans in this specific school district started when a teacher brought a list of more than 100 titles she wanted to be purged; since then, the district has said it will review the more than 100,000 titles in all its libraries.

Crucial Quote

“Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives. Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights,” said Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House.

Further Reading

Penguin Random House and Florida parents sue school district over book bans (NBC News)

Escambia County Florida school board bans 3 books with LGBT references (Pensacola News Journal)

PEN America, Penguin Random House sue Florida school district over book ban. What we know. (Pensacola News Journal)

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