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1 complaint led a Florida school to restrict access to Amanda Gorman's famous poem

Amanda Gorman says she wrote "The Hill We Climb" — which she read at President Biden's inauguration — "so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment." Gorman is seen here in February, at the Grammy Awards.
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Amanda Gorman says she wrote "The Hill We Climb" — which she read at President Biden's inauguration — "so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment." Gorman is seen here in February, at the Grammy Awards.

Updated May 25, 2023 at 10:41 AM ET

Amanda Gorman's poetry has heralded a presidential inauguration and a U.N. General Assembly — but access to it is now restricted at a Miami-Dade County school, the latest casualty in the fight over library books.

The complaint filed against Gorman's book The Hill We Climb — named for the poem she famously recited at President Biden's 2021 swearing-in — alleges that the work is "not educational," contains indirect hate speech and shouldn't be in schools.

After a review, the Bob Graham Education Center, a K-8 school in Miami Lakes, decided to retain the book — but only if it's shelved in an area reserved for middle school students.

"We are indeed troubled by this," Daniella Pierre, president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, told NPR on Wednesday, noting that one person's complaint prompted the change.

"The form, based on what has been provided and shared with us, does not even appear to be completely filled out or express a complete thought," Pierre said. "It is our collective goal to work on amending school board policy and effectuating changes to ensure that it takes more than one form to remove our history and heritage."

What does the complaint say?

The complaint came from Miami Lakes resident Daily Salinas, who has two children at Bob Graham. It alleges Gorman's book would cause confusion and indoctrinate children. NPR reviewed the complaint and other materials after they were obtained through a records request to the school district from the Florida Freedom to Read Project.

Salinas did not fill out the forms entirely. And for one question, asking whether she has seen professional reviews of the materials, she replied, "I don't need it."

A parent with students at Bob Graham Education Center challenged the inclusion of a famous poem by Amanda Gorman on the school's shelves.
/ Screenshot by NPR
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Screenshot by NPR
A parent with students at Bob Graham Education Center challenged the inclusion of a famous poem by Amanda Gorman on the school's shelves.

The complaint about Gorman's poem does not mention her, incorrectly asserting that the author or publisher was Oprah Winfrey — who wrote the book's foreword. During the school's review, an eight-person committee clarified that point, noting Gorman's place in history as the first National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration. Her book has educational value, the committee said — but it added that the "vocabulary used in the poem was determined to be of value for middle school students."

Salinas also filed complaints about four other books: The ABCs of Black History; Cuban Kids; Countries in the News Cuba; and Love to Langston.

The process moved quickly: Just one week after Salinas filed her complaints on March 29, the school committee decided most of the books on her list should not be seen by younger students. Salinas had requested the materials be removed "from the total environment."

The school's action "is very typical for Florida right now," Raegan Miller of the Florida Freedom to Read Project told NPR, noting that many school districts are being extremely cautious in handling complaints about books.

"I am certain that many are fearful they will be investigated" or punished, Miller added, citing the current political climate in Florida and the lack of clear legal guidance.

What do Gorman and others say?

In an interview with member station WLRN, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said the school was following policy.

"The process worked," he said. "A parent has the right to make a complaint. But the process was put into effect and it worked where they deemed the proper placement of the books. And the students still have access to it at the right level. And no books were banned."

Miami-Dade County Public Schools told NPR that in response to the complaint, "No literature (books or poem) has been banned or removed." The school determined Gorman's poem was better suited for older students, the district said, adding that it is still available, in the middle school section of the media center.

Gorman is pushing back on that position, stating via Twitter, "A school book ban is any action taken against a book that leaves access to a book restricted or diminished."

In another message, Gorman said she is "gutted" that elementary schoolers no longer have access to her poem. She wrote it, she added, "so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment."

The Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, Fla., restricted several books to middle-school students, after a parent complained about Amanda Gorman's poetry and other works.
/ Google Maps/Screenshot by NPR
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Google Maps/Screenshot by NPR
The Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, Fla., restricted several books to middle-school students, after a parent complained about Amanda Gorman's poetry and other works.

"And let's be clear: most of the forbidden works are by authors who have struggled for generations to get on the bookshelves," Gorman said. "The majority of these censored works are by queer and non-white voices."

As part of its decision, the school committee ruled that The ABCs of Black History should also move to the middle school space, despite being intended for readers ages 5 and older.

Rio Cortez, the book's author, stated, "It only further affirms for me that there's revolutionary power in understanding history."

What does Gorman's poem say?

When Gorman recited "The Hill We Climb" at the U.S. Capitol building, the poem was hailed as an inspirational message for a country that has long toiled to form a more perfect union.

The complaint targeting Gorman's book stated that it includes "indirectly hate messages," citing pages 12 and 13. In an edition that includes Winfrey's foreword, pages 12 and 13 read:

We've braved the belly of the beast.
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace,
And the norms and notions of what "just is"
Isn't always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow, we do it.
Somehow, we've weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn't broken, but simply
unfinished.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.