Book bans are hitting new heights this school year

Research by a leading censorship organization identified 4,000-plus book bans in 52 representative districts between July and December.

More book bans had occurred halfway through this school year than in all of 2022-23. Research by a leading censorship organization identified 4,000-plus book bans in a sample of 52 districts between July and December.

Those numbers mean book bans, which are taking place in both red and blue districts, are “soaring to a record level,” PEN America says in its latest report, “Banned in the USA: Narrating the Crisis.”

“Book bans are targeting narratives about race and sexual identities and sexual content writ large, and they show no sign of stopping,” said Sabrina Baêta, Freedom to Read program manager at PEN America and a lead author of the report.

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“The bans we’re seeing are broad, harsh and pernicious–and they’re undermining the education of millions of students across the country.”

The latest report focuses on books about women, sexual violence and rape that are being challenged based on obscenity. It also found that titles on race and racism, LGBTQ+ and transgender identities remain frequent targets of censors.

PEN America has tracked over 10,000 removals between July 2021 to December 2023, with Florida tallying the most bans at 3,135 across 11 school districts. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill this week that limits residents without children in a particular school system to one book challenge per month. Parents can still contest as many books as they want at their children’s schools.

Meanwhile, according to PEN America’s research, censorship activity is accelerating in other states:

  • Wisconsin: 481 bans across three school districts, including 444 books challenged by just one parent
  • Iowa: 142 bans in three school districts
  • Texas: 141 bans at four school districts
  • Kentucky: One district, Boyle County Schools, removed 106 books
  • Virginia: Three school districts banned 100 titles.

Pushback on book bans

The good news, the report asserts, is that students are taking action. Students are protesting, forming after-school banned book clubs and “working with teachers to distribute books under the radar,” the report points out.

“Students are at the epicenter of the book-banning movement, and they’re fearlessly spearheading the fight against this insidious encroachment into what they can read and learn across the country,” said Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America. “By suppressing these stories, censors seek to delegitimize experiences that resonate deeply with young people.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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