On June 12, 2023, First Focus on Children started their Child Week 2023 programming with a webinar titled “Protecting our Students – A Conversation with FL State Rep. Anna Eskamani & PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman.” This event focused on the increasing efforts to pass policies that censor students in public schools across the United States.

Representative Eskamani (FL-47) expressed her frustration over efforts to censor students in her state, especially since the Florida legislature vocalizes a desire to protect freedom of speech in schools, but their support of these policies erodes this. Politicians championing such policies enable individuals and a loud minority to push further for more extreme restriction and censorship. In Florida, these bills have even extended to higher education, where the passing of such policies would restrict conversations that adults are having with other adults in an educational setting. Although an increasing number of Floridians disagree with these policies, Representative Eskamani believes the problem will worsen before it gets better.

Jonathan Friedman of PEN America discussed the changing landscape of schools as a result of extreme policies and book bans. He agreed with Representative Eskamani that a majority is not needed to push these initiatives through; rather, simply one student, parent, or community member is often enough to scare a school into complying with their demands. This gives power to these individuals to dictate what their schools teach instead of encouraging students discuss and respectfully disagree like students in public schools have always done. As a result, teachers have to walk on eggshells to keep their jobs and avoid public backlash, which is contributing to a teacher shortage. All of this deeply affects the quality of education students are receiving.

Mr. Friedman and Representative Eskamani agree that if censorship policies continue to succeed and become more restrictive, the privatization of education is inevitable. This is extremely problematic not only for parents who cannot afford private school or physically get their child there, but also in that private schools face less accountability and are likely to become more religious. Public schools are one of the most critical functions of the government, and censorship policies seek to undermine them.

By Leah Sarfity, Policy Intern