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About a third of book bans reported in fall 2022 were a result of new state laws, free speech group says

<i>Rick Bowmer/AP</i><br/>Book bans in public schools kept rising during the first half of the 2022-23 school year
Rick Bowmer/AP
Book bans in public schools kept rising during the first half of the 2022-23 school year

By Nicole Chavez, CNN

Book bans in public schools kept rising during the first half of the 2022-23 school year, and nearly a third of them were the direct result of newly enacted state laws, a new PEN America report says.

PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, released Thursday its latest analysis of the movement to have some books removed from schools.

The group has been tracking book bans across the United States for the past two years.

From July to December 2022, the group says, there were 1,477 book bans directed at 874 different titles. Among the most targeted books were “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Flamer” by Mike Curato, both of which address self-discovery and gender identity.

PEN America said book bans are most prevalent in five states — Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah, and South Carolina — and many are driven by “local actors and state-level policy.”

In many states, school districts are reacting to new laws that dictate what books can be available in schools or new policies to add or review materials, the report said.

“The heavy-handed tactics of state legislators are mandating book bans, plain and simple,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “Some politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have tried to dismiss the rise in book bans as a ‘hoax.’ But their constituents and supporters are not fooled. The numbers don’t lie and reveal a relentless crusade to constrict children’s freedom to read.”

Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read program and one of the lead authors of the report, said the book ban movement started just as many schools were diversifying the materials available for students.

“Now, those books are being ripped away from students who need access to diverse ideas, information, characters, and stories,” Meehan said. “They should not be deprived of the opportunity to see themselves reflected in literature and to learn from different perspectives.”

In its report, PEN America acknowledged the “true magnitude” of book censorship in schools might be greater than what the group has been able to count. Vague language in the laws about their implementation, and cases in which entire classroom and school libraries have been closed temporarily or permanently make it difficult to quantify.

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