The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge to stop the Miami-Dade County school district from removing a series of children’s books from its libraries, including a volume about Cuba which depicts smiling kids in communist uniforms.
The ACLU and the Miami-Dade County Student Government Association argued in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Miami on Wednesday that the school board should add materials with alternate viewpoints rather than remove books that could be offensive.
Last week, the board voted 6-3 to remove “Vamos a Cuba” and its English-language version, “A Visit to Cuba” from 33 schools, stating the books were inappropriate for young readers because of inaccuracies and omissions about life in the communist nation.
The book, by Alta Schreier, targets students ages 5 to 7 and contains images of smiling children wearing uniforms of Cuba’s communist youth group and a carnival celebrating the 1959 Cuban revolution. The district owns 49 copies of the book in Spanish and English.
Books on other countries banned
The school board also decided to remove 24 other books in the series, including ones on Greece, Mexico and Vietnam, “despite not having received a complaint about those books and without having reviewed the books in its administrative process,” the suit said.
The ACLU noted the books have received favorable reviews in nationally recognized publications including Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal. The suit also cites staff recommendations to keep the books.
“The Miami-Dade School Board’s decision to defy U.S. law prohibiting censorship and ignore the recommendation of their own superintendent and two committees is a slap in the face to our tradition of free speech and the school board’s own standards of due process,” said JoNel Newman, an attorney working with the ACLU.
District stands firm
School district spokesman Joseph Garcia said the district will go to court to defend the board’s decision.
The controversy began in April when a parent who said he had been a political prisoner in Cuba complained about the books’ depiction of life under communist rule.
The lawsuit alleges the books’ removal violates students’ rights to a free press and that the volumes were removed without due process.