White House, advocates slam Florida school's 'censorship' of inauguration poem

Inauguration of Biden as 46th President of United States

By Sharon Bernstein and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House and advocates on Wednesday decried a Florida school's decision to remove the poem that celebrated author Amanda Gorman recited at President Joe Biden's inauguration from the elementary school portion of its library, calling the move censorship.

The poem by Gorman, who is Black and became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history when she gave her stirring reading of "The Hill We Climb," offers a hopeful vision for a deeply divided country, praising a United States that is "bruised, but whole."

"'The Hill We Climb,' was written so that all young people would see themselves in a historical moment, and the president and his administration certainly stand with her," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing on Wednesday. "Banning books is censorship, period," she said, adding "It limits American freedom."

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools on Tuesday confirmed that the book had been removed from the elementary school portion of a library used for both middle school students, as well as those in younger grades.

"The book titled "The Hill We Climb" by @TheAmandaGorman was never banned or removed from one of our schools," the school district said on Twitter. "The book is available in the media center as part of the middle grades collection."

Gorman said Tuesday she was "gutted" after learning that the book, which included the poem, as well as an introduction by celebrity Oprah Winfrey, had been moved.

She also posted what she said was a copy of a complaint filed against the book by a Florida parent, who claimed that the poem indirectly "promoted hate" and mistakenly identified Winfrey as the author.

The complaint and subsequent decision to move the book are the latest examples of attempts in Florida and other Republican-led states seeking to restrict students' access to materials highlighting African American history, race issues or LGBTQ rights.

Last year, a study commissioned by the Every Library Institute found that Americans overwhelmingly oppose book banning and are willing to consider book banning when voting. The American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom documented the highest number of attempted book bans in 2022 since it began tracking them more than 20 years ago.

ALA Executive Director Tracie Hall announced her organization would feature Gorman as a keynote speaker in its annual conference to "support her freedom of expression" amid "censorship efforts that undermine our Constitution and threaten our democracy."

The administration of Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has also rejected portions of a proposed new high school Advanced Placement course on African American studies, and banned the teaching of critical race theory, a university-level method for discussing systemic racism in the legal system, from some college courses.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Steve Holland. Additional reporting by Heather Timmons; Editing by Aurora Ellis)