Dictionaries in Jeopardy! Florida’s Disastrous Book Ban Elicits Colossal Face-Palm

In today’s adventure of “WTF, Florida!” dictionaries have gotten caught in the crossfire of the book ban craze.

Book Bans Book Culture Book News
An open brown box with the dictionary, almanac, Anne Frank's Diary novel, and Guiness World Records. There are words in black and green above the books.

The Escambia County School District has pulled 1600 books from school libraries, including five dictionaries, eight encyclopedias, and the Guinness Book of World Records. While none of the books have yet been banned, they are up for review by the board. One of the dictionaries on the chopping block is Webster’s Dictionary for Students. The reason for the books being up for review: they may not comply with the state’s new sex-ed law.

Repercussions of House Bill 1069

In 2022, Governor Ron Desantis signed into law the Parental Rights in Education bill, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Since then, many books from POC and LGBTQIA+ have been removed from school library shelves. The bill further prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity. While the bill expresses that topics on these matters aren’t to be discussed among children in kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards,” middle schools and high schools have also seen their library shelves cleaned out due to the bill.

In 2023, other Florida lawmakers sought to expand the bill, prohibiting classroom instruction on orientation and identity from prekindergarten up to eighth grade. Since 2022, Florida has banned over 1000 books. And dictionaries and encyclopedias may very well join the state’s growing list of banned books.

Red background with the title in large white and yellow lettering across the top third of the cover. More words in red and yellow cover the bottom third. The author's name is at the very bottom in small, white lettering.

Speaking with the Pensacola News Journal, district spokesperson Cody Stother says [the books]

“have not been banned or removed from the school district; rather, they have simply been pulled for further review to ensure compliance with the new legislation.”

District spokesperson Cody Strother’s interview

The Florida Freedom to Read Project, a group that seeks to protect students’ rights to information, has also obtained a list of the 1600 books. According to the group, the Escambia School District is also reviewing the biographies of Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Anne Frank’s Diary, the autobiography of Malcolm X, and many other works. HB 1069 restricts public schools from instructing on reproductive health and other topics related to sex for children and teens in grades 6 through 12. For now, the books up for review have no clear future of whether they’ll return to school shelves, but there may be hope.

PEN America, PRH, and Authors Take Their Case to Court

A lawsuit filed by PEN America, Penguin Random House, and several authors and parents against the Escambia School District will move forward. The judge presiding over the case says there’s merit under the First Amendment’s protection of free speech but not under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause. While the case is getting underway, the news about Florida banning dictionaries has sparked outrage across social media.

@jesspipermo Florida schools book bans are so intense that they are banning the dictionary. True story. ##bookbans##library##rondesantis##florida##fl ♬ original sound – Jess Piper

@hungrybookclub Are they nuts? (Yes) #hungrybookclub #dictionary #bookban #florida ♬ original sound – Taylor Mace

Dictionaries and encyclopedias being pulled may be a bridge too far in Florida’s ongoing book-ban saga, but only time will tell what will happen as many more bans are sure to crop up and many more lawsuits are sure to be filed. Florida may be leading in the number of book bans in the US, but they aren’t the only state. Yet Florida’s HB 1069 bill affecting children’s access to information via dictionaries and other reference materials could indeed be the determining factor of whether or not these bans continue.

For more on the books being banned in Florida, click here, here, and here.

Be sure to browse our Banned Books: Because We Stand With the Well-Informed bookshelf on Bookshop.org and keep reading alive!