Dixie County’s “inappropriate subject matter” book ban

On the Gulf Coast of Florida, west of Gainesville, is Dixie County, which recently attracted attention from the National Coalition Against Censorship. According to the NCAC, the school district’s superintendent, Mike Thomas, issued a directive “which prohibits the school district from purchasing and/or using ‘instructional materials (textbooks, library books, classroom novels, etc.)’ that ‘contain any profanity, cursing, or inappropriate subject matter …’

The NCAC notes:

Excluding material because it may be subjectively considered “inappropriate” and “questionable” potentially affects a wide range of materials that address race, gender, religion, sex, political violence, history, science, politics, the environment, or any other issue on which people may disagree.

Of course, the subjects I perk up at are “science” and “the environment.” I’m not aware of science materials being directly targeted in Dixie County, but I also don’t know much about what’s going on there as information about this issue is scarce on the Internet. However, I am concerned when I see in the NCAC letter that the superintendent tells teachers to make instructional materials choices based on “community standards.” NCAC says:

The vague notion of “community standards” offers educators no clear guidance and impermissibly imposes the viewpoints of some community members on every student in the District.

Why am I concerned? Because the argument for matching textbooks with local community standards was used by proponents of Florida’s new instructional materials law. (See our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category for more on the law.) Can you imagine the argument that “we didn’t come from no monkey” being used as a community standard to ditch certain science materials? I can.

The president of the Florida Library Association is also concerned:

School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to discriminate against unpopular or controversial ideas. The U.S. Supreme Court has cautioned that, ‘Local school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books …’ Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982).

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