Civil-liberties lawyers Wednesday defended a book about Cuba that omits references to Fidel Castro’s communist government, as a judge asked them to compare the work to a hypothetical book about Adolf Hitler that didn’t mention the Holocaust.
The discussion came as the Miami-Dade County School District asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to remove 49 copies of “Vamos a Cuba” and its English-language version, “A Visit to Cuba,” from its libraries. The board argues that the books, for children ages 5 to 8, present an inaccurate view of life in Cuba.
Senior Judge Donald Walter asked American Civil Liberties Union attorney JoNel Newman if a school board would be allowed to remove a Hitler book omitting the Holocaust from library shelves.
Newman said “Vamos a Cuba” is a geography book about daily life on the island, not about Castro himself.
“The political reality in Cuba is not what the book is about,” Newman said. “The school board can’t remove it because it wishes to inject a political message into it.”
Circuit Judge Ed Carnes noted that “there’s a difference in enormity” between the Holocaust and actions by Castro’s government, but that Walter’s hypothetical addressed the “omission of facts.”
Carnes presented his own hypothetical, asking Newman if a book about North Korea could be pulled from shelves because it failed to mention problems in that communist government.
Newman countered by saying such political discussions shouldn’t be required for books for elementary school students, arguing whether a book about the Great Wall of China must mention Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.
Many realities of Cuba left out
The school board wants to ban the book because it does not mention Cuba’s lack of civil liberties, the political indoctrination of public school children, food rationing and forced child labor.
“These books are rife with factual omissions, misrepresentations and inaccuracies,” said Richard Ovelmen, the school board’s attorney.
Board members voted last year to remove the book after a parent who spent time as a political prisoner in Cuba complained. Cuban-Americans, most of them anti-Castro, have significant political sway as the largest ethnic group in Miami.
In voting to remove the book, the board overruled the decision of two academic advisory committees and the county school superintendent.
Another parent and the ACLU of Florida challenged the removal. A federal judge ruled last summer that the board’s opposition to the book was political and that it should add books of different perspectives to its collections instead of removing the offending titles.
The 2001 book by Alta Schreier contains images of smiling children wearing uniforms of Cuba’s communist youth group and celebrating the country’s 1959 revolution. In discussing the daily life of Cuban children, the book says they work, study and play the same way children in other countries do. Walter and Carnes took issue with that premise.
“That’s simply not true,” Carnes said.
The court did not indicate when it would rule.