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A federal case against book restrictions in Florida schools is going forward

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A federal case against book restrictions in Florida schools is going forward. A judge ruled there is a viable argument that removing certain books is unconstitutional. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Plaintiffs call the case against Florida's Escambia Public School District the first of its kind. They argued that book restrictions violate authors' rights to free expression and students' rights to access information. The judge gave that claim the green light but blocked another, that book restrictions also violate students' equal protection rights. Katie Blankenship is with the free speech group PEN America, who brought the lawsuit, along with Penguin Random House and others.

KATIE BLANKENSHIP: We didn't win on absolutely everything, but the decisions that the judge has made are a major win for the First Amendment.

SMITH: The lawsuit accuses Escambia schools of removing LGBTQ and race-related books for ideological reasons. District officials declined to comment, but attorneys have argued the case should be dismissed, saying when public schools choose library books, that's effectively government speech and not bound by the First Amendment. But Blankenship says the judge didn't buy it.

BLANKENSHIP: What the state is trying to say is extreme. And the judge said very clearly, to do so would be a dangerous precedent, and declined.

SMITH: The judge told both sides to try and work out a settlement, but that may be unlikely. Vicki Baggett, an Escambia schoolteacher who's filed scores of book challenges, says the court should clarify when sexually explicit material crosses the line.

VICKI BAGGETT: Do students need to read this in order to have a better grasp of how to graduate their high school graduation exams? The answer is no. I really believe if the judge sees what's in some of these books, he's going to be shocked.

SMITH: While she's hoping for a precedent-setting decision supporting book restrictions, plaintiffs say we want to be the blueprint for overturning them.

Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.