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Roberto Clemente book approved for use in Florida public schools following review over discrimination references

The book was among the more than 1.5 million titles that had to be “covered or stored and paused for student use” while it was determined whether they complied with state laws.
Pirates' outfielder Robert Clemente
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Robert Clemente in 1972.Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

A book about the late Afro Puerto Rican MLB legend Roberto Clemente that was removed from public schools in Florida’s Duval County pending a review over its references to racism and discrimination has been approved for student use.

“Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates” by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Raúl Colón was among the more than 1.5 million titles that had to be “covered or stored and paused for student use" at the Duval County Public Schools District while it was determined whether such books complied with state laws, according to Chief Academic Officer Paula Renfro.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed laws last year requiring schools to rely on certified media specialists to approve which books could be integrated into classrooms. Guidance on how that would be implemented was provided to schools in December.

Books must align with state standards such as not teaching K-3 students about gender identity and sexual orientation, not teaching critical race theory — which examines systemic racism in American society — in public grade schools and not including references to pornography and discrimination as defined by the state, according to the school district.

In January, more than 50 certified media specialists for Duval started reviewing over 1.5 million book titles. Approximately 7,000 books have been reviewed and approved for student use as of Monday, according to the school district.

"The book is now available to students," Sonya Duke-Bolden, a spokesperson with the Duval County Public Schools District told NBC News Wednesday in reference to the Clemente book.

The school district has not said whether more books were reviewed but not approved.

"Robert Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates" by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Raúl Colón.
"Robert Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates" by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Raúl Colón.Atheneum Books for Young Readers via Simon and Schuster

Clemente died in 1972, when his plane crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico as he was delivering relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was 38.

Clemente became a posthumous Baseball Hall of Famer, with exactly 3,000 hits, four National League batting titles, 12 Gold Gloves, an MVP award, two World Series championships and 15 All-Star appearances.

Clemente often denounced racism and discrimination in his native Spanish language, and he spoke publicly about his experiences as a Black Latino climbing the baseball ranks during the civil rights movement. He even spoke about political and social issues alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

The son of the Pittsburgh Pirates player, Roberto Clemente Jr., previously told NBC News he owns Winter’s book about his father, which was written for children K-3.

“His story is his story. He went through racism. It’s something that can’t be changed,” Clemente Jr. said. “But obviously, for the younger students, if it’s something that they feel is too much for them, they might be able to utilize a different book with the same story, but it’s framed differently for them, for that age group.”

Clemente Jr. added that he expects his father’s life story and legacy to empower people of all ages.

“We need to continue to figure out how to continue that conversation and unifying our cultures and nationalities,” Clemente Jr. said.

PEN America, a nonprofit group that advocates for free expression in literature, said in December that 176 elementary school books from their Essential Voices collection were among the titles removed from Duval County public school libraries.

The books removed included more than 100 titles deemed to have “content too mature for the grade level for which they were included in that collection,” the organization added.

More than 30 of these books are by Latino authors and illustrators or are centered around Latino characters and narratives. Among these were “Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa” by Veronica Chambers and Julie Maren, “Sonia Sotomayor (Women Who Broke the Rules Series)” by Kathleen Krull and Angela Dominguez, and Winter’s Clemente book.

Cruz, known as the Queen of Salsa, was one of the 20th century’s most celebrated Latin music artists. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

According to the school district, school officials had purchased the books from the Essential Voices collection "to increase diversity of writers, characters, topics, and viewpoints in our classroom libraries." But the purchase delivery included titles the school had not ordered.

"We collected those books from schools and held them in district storage until our media specialists and others could review them," according to the school district.

Following the review by media specialists, 105 books from that collection were sent to classrooms last fall, according to the school district. Krull's Sotomayor book was included in that bunch, Duke-Bolden said, adding that the book "has not yet been officially reviewed by a certified media specialist as required by Florida law."

Another book about the Supreme Court justice titled " Who is Sonia Sotomayor?" has been reviewed and approved, Duke-Bolden said, adding that the book written by Krull "will be reviewed in the near future."

Chambers' book about Cruz has been approved for students in kindergarten and higher, Duke-Bolden said.

Over 40 other books from the Essential Voices collection were sent back, according to the school district. Some of them were returned because they were substituted titles, which were swapped in for books in the collection that were unavailable. Other books were sent back because the school district "determined they would not comply with new legislation or were not appropriate for elementary aged children.”

Twenty-seven books from the Essential Voices collection remain under review, according to the district.

PEN America said nearly two weeks ago that they "have received additional, conflicting information on the precise nature of when, why, and for how long books from the Essential Voices Collection were kept off classroom shelves in 2022."

"We are working to update the details of this case," the organization said.