ATLANTA – Miami school officials can remove from library shelves a book about Cuba that depicts smiling children in communist uniforms but avoids mention of problems in the country, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Miami-Dade County School District wouldn't be infringing freedom of speech rights by removing 49 copies of "Vamos a Cuba" and its English-language version, "A Visit to Cuba," from its libraries. The board has argued that the books, for children ages 5 to 8, present an inaccurate view of life in Cuba.
The board voted to remove the book in 2006 after a parent who was a former political prisoner in Cuba complained. A federal judge in Miami later ruled that the board should add books of different perspectives instead of removing offending titles.
However, the panel of the 11th Circuit sided with the school board in a 2-1 ruling.
"There is a difference between not including graphic detail about adult subjects on the one hand and falsely representing that everything is hunky dory on the other," Judge Ed Carnes wrote.
Circuit Judge Charles R. Wilson wrote in dissent that it appeared the book was banned for political rather than educational reasons.
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said the two judges managed "to twist the law into a pretzel."
"But what can't be evaded is censorship, is censorship, is censorship. I'm sorry, there is no way to evade that," Simon said. He promised "further legal action to prevent the shelves of Miami-Dade school libraries from being scrubbed of books that some people find to have an objectionable view point."
The 2001 book by Alta Schreier is one of a series on different countries. It contains images of smiling children wearing uniforms of Cuba's communist youth group and celebrating the country's 1959 revolution. In discussing daily life, the book says children work, study and play the same way children in other countries do.
Juan Amador, whose complaint prompted the board to pursue the book's removal, was outraged that the book made no mention of lack of civil liberties, political indoctrination of school children, food rationing or child labor. He said in his complaint to the school board that the book "portrays a life in Cuba that does not exist."
ACLU attorney JoNel Newman had argued at a 2007 hearing that political discussions need not be required for books for elementary students. She questioned whether a book about the Great Wall of China must mention Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.