Court Upholds District’s Removal of Cuba Book

By Mark Walsh — February 06, 2009 2 min read
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The Miami-Dade County, Fla., school board did not violate the First Amendment when it removed a children’s book about Cuba from the shelves of school libraries, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, ruled 2-1 to overturn the ruling of a federal district judge. The majority and dissenting opinions total 177 pages in the case about a book that is only 26 sentences long.

The book is ¡Vamos a Cuba!, or A Visit to Cuba, part of a series of books about countries for 4- to 8-year-old readers.

In 2006, a Miami-Dade father objected to the presence of the book in his daughter’s elementary school because of inaccuracies and because the book’s descriptions about daily life, such as that “people in Cuba eat, work, and go to school like you do,” ignored the realities of the Communist regime under leader Fidel Castro.

A school district review committee and the then-superintendent rejected the parent’s request to remove the book. But the Miami-Dade school board voted 6-3 to remove the Cuba book, along with others in the A Visit to ... series.

That decision was challenged in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida as a violation of local residents’ First Amendment rights to free speech. A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring the removal of the book.

But in its Feb. 5 decision in ACLU of Florida v. Miami-Dade School Board, the 11th Circuit court panel rejected arguments that board members were motivated by impermissible viewpoint discrimination in voting to remove the book.

“The record shows that the board did not simply dislike the ideas in the Vamos a Cuba book,” said the majority opinion by Judge Ed Carnes. “Instead, everyone, including both sides’ experts, agreed that the book contained factual inaccuracies.”

Judge Carnes also said “overwrought rhetoric about book banning has no place here. ... The term does not apply where a school district, through its authorized school board, decides not to continue possessing the book on its own library shelves.”

Writing in dissent, Judge Charles R. Wilson said a school board may not suppress viewpoints in a book “when the educational content of the book is
otherwise innocuous.”

“The record provides palpable support for the district court’s conclusion
that School Board members banned the book not because of inaccuracies per se but because the book failed to make a negative political statement about contemporary Cuba,” Judge Wilson said.

The Miami Herald reports on the decision here.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.