A Florida grade school has relocated a poem read at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration to a part of its library intended for older children following a parent’s complaint — a move that’s left poet Amanda Gorman feeling “gutted.”
A committee at Miami Lakes’ Bob Graham Education Center decided to relocate a book containing Gorman’s poem, as well as three other books, from the elementary section and into the middle school section of the K-8 library, a Miami-Dade County Public Schools representative, Elmo Lugo, confirmed to HuffPost on Tuesday.
The move comes after the committee concluded, in a review of the parent’s complaint last month, that the materials were “more appropriate” for older students, the Miami Herald first reported.
Gorman, who read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the U.S. Capitol in 2021, said she was “gutted” by the news and alleged that the relocation amounted to a First Amendment violation.
Amanda Gorman reads her poem "The Hill We Climb" during the 2021 presidential inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
“I wrote The Hill We Climb so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment,” she said in a statement.
“Ever since, I’ve received countless letters and videos from children inspired by The Hill We Climb to write their own poems. Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, asked Wednesday about a “ban” on the book by the school, said the president and his administration stand with Gorman.
“Banning books is censorship, period. That’s what that is. When you ban a book you are censoring,” she told reporters. “And we should all stand against that type of act when it comes to books.”
The nonprofit PEN America also criticized the move, saying in a statement Wednesday that it “flies in the face of our basic constitutional freedoms.”
“The book may remain available to middle school students, but when you restrict or diminish access to a book, that’s a ban,” the free-speech organization said. “Moving The Hill We Climb to middle school shelves means elementary students can’t or won’t get it; their access has diminished.”
The Florida parent who complained, identified as Daily Salinas, had argued that the poem was “not educational,” according to a copy of her complaint shared by the Florida Freedom to Read Project, a local organization.
Salinas also said that the text could “cause confusion and indoctrinate” and that it contained “hate messages.”
She lodged similar complaints against the books “The ABCs of Black History,” “Cuban Kids,” “Countries in the News: Cuba” and “Love to Langston.” All four are intended for elementary school readers, according to descriptions online.
Salinas had asked that the books be completely removed from all schools in the district. In a Spanish interview with the Herald, Salinas said she is not in support of “eliminating or censoring any books,” but added that she wants reading material to be age appropriate and for students to “know the truth” about Cuba.
The review of all five books resulted in four of the five being retained for the middle school level, with THE ABCs OF BLACK HISTORY clearly being moved out of its intended age group.
You can see the book in full at the read aloud below.https://t.co/H0HXTRiRdBpic.twitter.com/sJDsLiiv7T
— Florida Freedom to Read Project (@FLFreedomRead) May 19, 2023
The review committee found that “The Hill We Climb” and three other titles were in fact appropriate but better suited for middle schoolers.
The remaining book, “Countries in the News: Cuba,” was determined to be both “balanced and age appropriate,” according to a copy of the committee’s recommendations shared by the Florida Freedom to Read Project. Thus, it could stay in the library’s elementary section.
Gorman’s poem was also determined to be educational, “because of its historical significance.”
Lugo, the district representative, told HuffPost that the committee’s decision applies only to the Bob Graham Education Center and not the entire county. He further suggested that the move does not constitute a book ban as Gorman and others have claimed.
“These books were never removed from the school site,” he told HuffPost.
“They have been put in a place so that they are accessible to middle school students and not elementary school students ... because that particular school has two different types of audiences.”
School district representative Ana Rhodes clarified on Wednesday that the moved books are not off-limits to younger students, as they can freely access books in the middle school section of the library.
The school’s principal, Yecenia Martinez, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Outcry over the school’s decision comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation encouraging critical reviews of school reading materials and restrictions on classroom discussions in the state. One law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, specifically limits conversations on gender identity and race for certain students.
As of March, 175 books had been removed from classrooms across the state, according to a count by PEN America.
Last week, the group filed a lawsuit with publisher Penguin Random House against a different Florida school district over its removal of books about race and LGBTQ+ identities.