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As efforts to ban books escalate, a new petition is filed against Sarasota's school board

Victoria Crosdale
WUSF Public Media

In a petition for an emergency injunction, Robert Louis Craft requested a judge to order law enforcement to remove a list of books from Sarasota County Schools and called for a grand jury investigation.

The school board filed a response which argued that the pleading needed to be dismissed for numerous reasons.

WUSF's Cathy Carter recently spoke with Sarasota County school board attorney Dan DeLeo about the lawsuit, and the uptick in book challenges in school systems across the country.

Dan, what can you tell us about this specific lawsuit in Sarasota County?

In summary, what this person is attempting to do is to use improper legal mechanisms without a clear legal basis to try to ban a whole list of books, some of which are obviously on their face, not candidates for the usual process that we have in every county in the state. There are 67 counties in Florida and statutes require that every school district have a means and mechanism for dealing with complaints about materials in a library that a person, parent, or citizen may feel is not appropriate, either improper or in some way age inappropriate. So, there are well worn, well publicized, well tested procedures. And so, this gentleman needs to avail himself of those procedures, and stop wasting the taxpayer’s money with this crazy jihad and this ridiculous sham pleading.

And although book bans are not necessarily new, the escalation and challenges do seem to match up with recent legislation that dictates what teachers can and cannot say in the classroom.

Absolutely, there is an assault taking place on our public schools. And this is one more example of that kind of action. There are networks of people who circulate lists of books that should be banned, or that somehow have objectionable content, people that are like minded, and the same sort of groups that have been for the last couple of years now, assaulting different aspects of public schools, are seeking to ban books. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that you don't look at a book in isolation, you don't look at one sentence or one paragraph, you look at the work as a whole.

So, do these groups honestly believe the material is harmful to kids? Or is this more motivated by stoking of the culture wars?

You have groups who have this ideological opposition, and they're wound up often with people who just have a more narrow political agenda. And so, it's very often hard to pull these things apart. But I view this as one more part of this larger assault on the public schools, which has been ongoing, especially over the last couple of years has intensified.

The American Library Association, which keeps trackof these, did record 730 book challenges in 2021, which was double the amount in 2020. As we approach a new school year, are you concerned that this escalation will continue across the country?

What I would say is that this lawsuit raises really important issues for every person who hears the sound of my voice, because our First Amendment is something that whether you're on the left or the right, we revere and for good reason. And so, there is a growing movement out there to attempt to ban books and to to otherwise assault the First Amendment, and I think it's important that people understand what's being done and what's at issue.

Copyright 2022 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.