By Laura Wides-Munoz
A federal judge on Monday temporarily barred the Miami-Dade County School District from removing a children's book on Cuba from school libraries and, in a strongly worded opinion, ordered the district to replace any books it had removed by the end of the day.
In the 89-page preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold ruled in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which is seeking to keep the book, Vamos a Cuba ("Let's Go to Cuba"), in schools. Gold's decision would keep the book on the shelves until the case goes to trial.
Last month, the Miami-Dade school board voted to remove the book from its elementary schools after a parent complained its depiction of life in the communist nation was misleading and offensive because it paints an overly rosy picture of life in the country. The board then expanded that order to all 24 books in the series on children living around the globe.
The Miami-Dade Student Government Association and the ACLU said the board's decision violated students' constitutional right of access to information under the First Amendment.
School Board Member Frank Bolanos said the district would comply with the judge's order, but he hoped the board would appeal the decision.
In his ruling, Gold noted that the case does not deal with classroom curriculum but rather with library books "that are by their nature" optional reading.
"Here, by totally banning the Cuba Books and the rest of the Series, the School Board is in fact prohibiting even the voluntary consideration of the themes contained in the books by students at their leisure. This goes to the heart of the First Amendment issue," he wrote.
Gold added that the court was not trying to compel the school board to add books to its shelves.
Vamos a Cuba, by Alta Schreier, is geared toward children ages 4 to 8 and includes statements such as, "The people in Cuba eat, work, and study like you."
Los Angeles and New York City school districts also carry the book. The Miami-Dade board overrode two review committees and Superintendent Rudy Crew recommendations' to keep the books. Juan Amador Rodriguez, the parent who complained about the book, said he was surprised and disappointed by the judge's decision. "This was something simple," Amador said. "The book has errors. It has errors of omission, omission about the reality of the country. It seemed so simple just to take the book out of the shelves," he said.
"There's a contradiction," Amador added. "The judge in his court orders that you speak the truth and only the truth, but he allows these children to be lied to in schools." Howard Simon, head of the ACLU of Florida, said he was pleased with the ruling.
"Every penny that they have spent on this failed, unconstitutional political crusade should have been spent on the education of Miami-Dade schoolchildren," he said of the school board's decision.
Since the board voted on Vamos a Cuba, a second parent has asked a Miami-Dade school to pull another title from its library, Cuban Kids. The school is reviewing that complaint.