The Free to Be Florida coalition brings together Floridians from across the state to fight against educational censorship
MIAMI, FL – Today, parents, students, educators and advocacy organizations across Florida launched Free to Be Florida (FTB), a new coalition aimed at ensuring a safe and accurate learning environment free from government overreach and censorship. FTB Florida seeks to end educational censorship in Florida, particularly efforts targeting Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ communities. The group has built a support network to counter educational censorship throughout Florida, effectuate statewide anti-censorship strategies, and uplift the voices of impacted communities.
The new statewide coalition comes on the heels of ongoing attacks on Floridians' First Amendment rights and academic freedom in K-12 and higher education settings. In the last two years, the Florida legislature passed laws like “Stop WOKE” and “Don’t Say Gay” that limit speech in classrooms by banning instruction on systemic racism, gender discrimination, and censoring classroom discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Free to Be Florida recognizes that, across the state, individuals are already mobilizing against classroom censorship. And they are already making huge impacts in their counties. The only difference now is that we’ll be fighting back together - supporting the incredible grassroots mobilization across the state and building state-wide strategies with every county throughout the state,” said Katie Blankenship, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Florida. “Students deserve to learn in a space where they are free to be themselves; where all chapters of our nation’s history are taught – the good, bad, and ugly. We can’t take that away from them, and we will not be intimidated into silence.”
"As a concerted effort marches onward in our state to deprive young people of an understanding of the real world and the people in it, those same young people join alongside an intergenerational group of leaders to show that our lives, our histories, and our humanities are not up for debate,” said Maxx Fenning, executive director of PRISM.
“In a society where censorship is used as a way of control, where history is whitewashed, where public education is politicized, where educators are criminalized, where parental rights is an illusion and does not give rights to all parents, silence is not an option,” said Hedieh Sepehri, founder of Families Against Banning Books, a Miami-based organization.
According to PEN America and data collected from the Florida Freedom to Read Project, over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida with 1,406 books banned, more than any other state in the country. FTB represents the coming together of individuals and organizations throughout the entire state to show the Florida legislature that Floridians are not standing idly by while the state’s public education system is eroded.
FTB Florida also has the support of state-wide and national organizations such as the ACLU of Florida, Equality Florida, Florida Freedom to Read Project, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), and others.
“We are thrilled about the energy to fight back against educational censorship,” said Mitchell Kaplan, founder of Florida-based bookstore Books & Books and NCAC board member. “Books & Books and the literary community support the Free to Be Florida Coalition and communities across the state making sure Florida is a bastion of free expression. We are stronger when all our stories are told and celebrated.”
“Libraries are where children can find the writings of everyone who lived before them and pick up where they left off,” said James Shaw, member of FTB Florida and Tampa resident. “No one who wants society to move forward would ever want to decimate our libraries, and the people wanting to restrict kids’ access to honest information want very much to move backward. As Floridians, we can’t allow that, and we won’t.”
“There is a tireless group of dedicated citizens in Volusia County who refuse to be intimidated or silenced by those who take their direction from national political groups seeking to limit the horizons of our kids,” said Laurel Robinson, co-founder of Citizens for Truth and Justice in Education Learn Truth, Seek Justice. “The public school system was created to ensure that a free, public education was available to all. We won’t stand by and see that commitment marginalized by a few misdirected individuals. We are proud to stand with other groups and individuals across the state in the Free to Be FL coalition to ensure that all children in Florida have access to a robust and accurate public education.”
Floridians can learn more and join the Free to Be Florida Coalition here.