A School Restricted Amanda Gorman’s Book. Here’s What to Know.

Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
Amanda Gorman reads “The Hill We Climb” before Joe Biden is sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

As a wave of book challenges spreads across the country, poet Amanda Gorman said she felt “gutted” after learning that a Florida school restricted access to the poem she read at President Biden’s inauguration. The school district denied the book was banned or removed but acknowledged moving it so elementary school students had limited access to it.

The youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history said Tuesday that restrictions like the one placed on her book “The Hill We Climb,” which contains a single, 32-page poem, are on the rise. “We must fight back,” she said.

“So they ban my book from young readers, confuse me with [Oprah Winfrey], fail to specify what parts of my poetry they object to, refuse to read any reviews, and offer no alternatives,” Gorman said via Twitter in reaction to the complaint that challenged her book. Gorman declined to comment when reached through her spokesperson.

Here is what you need to know about the challenges Gorman’s book faces:

Has ‘The Hill We Climb’ been banned by a Florida school?

The controversy around the book being moved has highlighted the debate around challenges to library books across the country.

The Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, which teaches pre-K to eighth grade, restricted access to Gorman’s book after a complaint from a parent, according to notes from a school review committee meeting reviewed by The Washington Post. The committee deemed the book suitable for middle school students, saying the book had “educational value because of its historical significance,” citing Gorman’s reading of the poem at the inauguration.

The meeting notes did not explain why it restricted access for elementary school students but showed the committee made its decision in early April.

The school argues the move is different from a ban.

According to Ana Rhodes, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the school staff moved the book from the elementary school section of the media center to the middle school section. To read the book, an elementary school student would now have to request it from a media specialist and prove they read at a middle school level.

Otherwise, their access to the book is restricted.

Gorman argued that the action should still be considered a ban.

“A school book ban is any action taken against a book that leaves access to a book restricted or diminished,” she said in a tweet Tuesday night. “This decision of moving my book from its original place, taken after one parent complained, diminishes the access elementary schoolers would have previously had to my poem.”

Why is Gorman’s book facing restrictions?

Gorman’s poem, about the trauma of watching an attack on Washington after a the presidential election, was challenged alongside four other books, “The ABCs of Black History,” “Cuban Kids,” “Countries in the News: Cuba” and “Love to Langston,” on the complaint of one parent, according to the Florida Freedom to Read Project, a nonprofit organization focused on defending students’ right to access information at school.

In the complaint, the parent wrote that Gorman’s poem contained indirect “hate messages” and served to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.”

The complaint wrongly identified Winfrey, the talk show host, as the “author publisher” of the poem. Winfrey wrote the foreword for Gorman’s book, and her name appears on the cover, but she is not the author.

The school restricted access to four of the five challenged books in April, according to the complaint reviewed by The Post.

The Miami Herald first reported on the restrictions. The Herald reported that a school materials review committee decided that apart from “Countries in the News: Cuba,” the titles would be “better suited” or “more appropriate” for middle school students.

How common are book challenges in Florida?

Gorman’s reaction to the news comes a week after Gorman publisher Penguin Random House and the advocacy group PEN America filed a federal lawsuit against Florida’s Escambia County School District, for restricting access to 10 books about race and LGBTQ+ identities.

According to an analysis by PEN America, Florida is second only to Texas in the number of books restricted in its schools. Thirteen school districts in Florida banned books between July and December, the most in the country, the group found.

“That Florida has the highest number of districts banning books shows the widespread effort across the state,” said Kasey Meehan, director of the Freedom to Read program at PEN America. “The situation is chronic in Florida and worsening around the country.”

Book restrictions and challenges are escalating alongside legislation in Florida that prevents the teaching of certain types of content, Meehan said.

Recent laws passed by the Florida legislature bar teachers from discussing material that might result in students feeling guilty about the histories of their race and restrict instruction on gender and sexuality. The moves have resulted in some districts protectively removing books that could be in violation of the law; teachers found in violation of the laws could have their teaching certification revoked.

A third Florida law required schools to catalogue every book on their shelves in a “searchable format.” Then a media specialist or librarian must determine that the books do not contain pornography and are age-appropriate. Parents can challenge a school to remove any book.

What is the reaction to the restrictions?

“The outpouring of support that Amanda and others are getting shows how out of control the book-banning movement has gotten,” Meehan said. “People are realizing that books are being targeted without regard to what is in them.”

Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia state representative and gubernatorial candidate, was among those to amplify Gorman’s note on Twitter. The White House called the move a form of censorship Wednesday afternoon.

“The poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ was written so that all young people would see themselves in a historical moment,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “Banning books is censorship, period. That’s what that is. When you ban a book, you are censoring it. It limits American freedom.”