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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Shakespeare banned in US school districts over ‘sexual content’

Florida schools are combing their libraries for potentially offensive material based on recent legislation

Multiple Florida schools are dropping Shakespeare plays from their curricula, leery of running afoul of a controversial new law banning books with sexual content, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Wednesday.

Hillsborough County public schools will only be assigning excerpts from the works of Shakespeare during the coming academic year, district officials revealed to the outlet. While they told the Times they had altered their instructional guides for teachers because of “revised state teaching standards and a new set of state exams that cover a vast array of books and writing styles,” district spokeswoman Tanya Arja admitted the decision was “also in consideration of the law,” referring to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law.

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Dubbed by its critics ‘Don’t Say Gay’, the measure took effect last month, requiring schools to suspend access to reading material alleged to contain pornography, depictions or descriptions of sexual conduct, pending resolution of any complaints from parents or the state.

“I think the rest of the nation – no, the world, is laughing at us,” Joseph Cool, a teacher at Gaither High, told the Times on Tuesday, pointing out that “taking Shakespeare in its entirety out because the relationship between Romeo and Juliet is somehow exploiting minors is just absurd.” 

Because of uncertainty over what constitutes forbidden content, school districts have been preemptively removing books from their libraries in order to avoid parental challenges while trained “media specialists” screen the contents for anything that could potentially run afoul of the law.

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If the specialists flag a book, a district-level panel is required to review it and make the final decision on whether it remains in the library. Parents may also file a complaint about any book on the school district’s website, requiring the district to pull the title within five days and keep it out of libraries until it can be reviewed.

Local CBS affiliate WJAX found earlier this week that Duval County had removed 19 titles from its shelves ahead of the 2023-2024 school year, while St. Johns County had dropped 31 books and Clay County pulled 115.