News Outlets Falsely Claim Biden Inauguration Poem Banned From Florida School

News Outlets Falsely Claim Biden Inauguration Poem Banned From Florida School
Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman speaks during the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, left, on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 20, 2021. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

Multiple news outlets falsely reported that a poem read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration was banned from a school in Florida.

The Associated Press, the Guardian, and USA Today were among the outlets making the false claims.

“Amanda Gorman’s poem for Biden’s inauguration banned by Florida school,” the Associated Press reported. “Amanda Gorman ‘gutted’ after Florida school bans Biden inauguration poem,” the Guardian reported. “Florida school bans Amanda Gorman poem,” MSNBC reported. USA Today said the book was banned and that the school had “block[ed] younger students” from reading it.
Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” which gained notoriety after being read at Biden’s 2021 inauguration, was subject to a parent complaint in the Miami-Dade School District, according to documents received and published by the Florida Freedom to Read Project. The parent, Daily Salinas, said that the poem “is not educational and have [sic] indirectly hate messages” and expressed concern it would “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.”

School officials reviewed that complaint and four others from Salinas during a meeting in April and opted to move the poem and three books—Cuban Kids, Love to Langston, and the ABCs of Black History—from the elementary school section of the Bob Graham Education Center to the middle school section in the center, which houses a K-8 school.

The decisions were based on the content of the materials. Officials for the poem said they found the vocabulary used “was determined to be of value for middle school students.”

A fifth subject of a complaint, Countries in the News Cuba, was not moved.

Despite the claims of the poem being banned, it is still available to all students, the school district said.

“The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman was never banned or removed from one of our schools. The book is available in the media center as part of the middle grades collection,” the district said in a statement.

In a letter to parents, the district said that the poem “remains accessible to all students.”

And a spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email that all students at the school have access to any book in the library, provided the book is deemed age-appropriate.

The Associated Press, the Guardian, MSNBC, and Gannett, which owns USA Today, did not respond to requests for comment.

Critics said the reports were clearly untrue.

“These hysterical and false claims about book bans and such are part of an insidious rhetorical misdirection to try to convince the public that any selection or scrutiny of reading materials are fascist and undemocratic. In fact, however, these reading materials being questioned does not amount to banning, because the materials remain widely available, but maybe not necessarily in a particular library collection or school curriculum,” Jeffrey McCall, a communications professor at DePauw University, told The Epoch Times in an email. “This kind of debate has been going on for years in America and is simply part of the democratic public sphere.”

Given how outlets have offered skewed reporting on other education issues such as critical race theory, “it’s no surprise that they'll claim that people are banning books left and right,” added Adam Guillette, president of Accuracy in Media.

Other outlets reported that the school “restricted access to” the poem. Some, including the Associated Press, correctly noted the poem was still in the same building but still used the word “banned.”

The poem’s section that was the focus of the complaint reads:

“We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, And the norms and notions of what ‘just is’ Isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it. Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

Gorman Responds

Gorman said in a statement that “they ban my book from young readers, confuse me with Oprah, fail to specify what parts of my poetry they object to, refuse to read any reviews, and offer no alternatives,” referring to how Salinas listed Oprah Winfrey, as opposed to the real author, in the complaint. Winfrey wrote a foreword for the poem.

“Unnecessary book bans like these are on the rise, and we must fight back,” Gorman said.

When people noted the book had not been banned, Gorman added: “The Hill We Climb is an inaugural poem for the world. Relocating it to older age group library shelves by its nature bars younger and equally deserving generations from accessing said moment in history.”

Some groups also used the ban language, including PEN America.

“The book may remain available to middle school students, but when you restrict or diminish access to a book, that’s a ban,” the group said in a statement.

New Law

A bill signed into law by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 gave parents more power to challenge school materials.

HB 1467 says that each district school board must develop a policy for parental objections and allow parents to present evidence that material does not meet criteria outlined in state law or contains pornographic or otherwise prohibited content, “or is inappropriate for the grade level and 94 age group for which the material is used.”

If the school board reviews the complaint and finds problems, it must “discontinue use of 100 the material for any grade level or age group for which such use is inappropriate or unsuitable.”

Some books have been banned in Florida, according to a recent lawsuit from PEN America and other groups.

Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz said the Bob Graham Education Center process was the law working as intended.

“The process worked,” Diaz told WLRN. “A parent has the right to make a complaint. But the process was put into effect and it worked where they deemed the proper placement of the books. And the students still have access to it at the right level. And no books were banned.”
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