News

Did a Florida School Ban Amanda Gorman's Poem, 'The Hill We Climb'?

According to reports, the school restricted some students' access to four books, including Gorman's, after a review based on one parent's complaint.

Published May 24, 2023

Updated Jun 2, 2023
Youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman speaks during the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Image Via Rob Carr/Getty Images

In late May 2023, readers asked Snopes if reports were true that a Florida school had banned National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman's poem, "The Hill We Climb." The claim had been widely repeated by the news media. For example, The Associated Press published an article on May 24 headlined, "Amanda Gorman's poem for Biden's inauguration banned by Florida school."

Gorman, 25, had recited the book-length poem to a national TV audience during U.S. President Joe Biden's inauguration in January 2021.

A separate online rumor, albeit with less steam behind it, falsely claimed that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had announced such a ban himself.

The public school at the center of this matter was Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, Florida. Its students are enrolled in pre-K through 8th grade.

We contacted media relations representatives with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to ask several questions. That correspondence is detailed later in this story, as is relevant information in the minutes from a committee meeting. According to those minutes, the truth about this story was quite different than what had been reported in some news venues.

The Parent's Complaints

On March 29, 2023, a parent filed written complaints with the school regarding five different books in its library. One of those books was "The Hill We Climb." According to the complaints, the parent believed that the "function" of at least some of the specified works, including Gorman's poem, was to "indoctrinate" children.

According to The New York Times, that parent was Daily Salinas, a mother of two children who attend the school. The Times' reporting cited records provided by Florida Freedom to Read Project, describing it as "an advocacy group that opposes efforts to ban and restrict access to books in the state."

Salinas' complaint regarding Gorman's poem misidentified the work's main author as Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey had, however, written a foreword for the book.

In the complaint, Salinas wrote that she believed Gorman's poem was "not educational." She said that it contained indirect messages of hate and could "cause confusion and indoctrinate stude[nts]."

Salinas specifically cited pages 12 and 13 of Gorman's poem as being the reason for her complaint. We were not immediately able to determine the specific text of the poem Salinas found objectionable, nor were we able to reach her by phone or social media for comment.

According to the Times, the other four books Salinas challenged were, "The ABCs of Black History" by Rio Cortez, "Cuban Kids" by George Ancona, "Love to Langston" by Tony Medina, and "Countries in the News: Cuba," by Kieran Walsh.

Gorman's Response

On social media, Gorman posted a lengthy response in a screenshot, echoing assertions from other sources that claimed the book had been "banned."

"I'm gutted," Gorman wrote. "Because of one parent's complaint, my inaugural poem, 'The Hill We Climb,' has been banned from an elementary school in Miami-Dade County, Florida."

She also said that book bans in general were on the rise in 2022. This was true, according to a report released by the American Library Association.

The School's Review

On April 5, the School Materials Review Committee (SMRC) met at 11:10 a.m. for a total of two hours and 18 minutes to discuss Salinas' complaints. (It's unclear if the group broke for lunch during this time.)

Snopes obtained a copy of the minutes from the meeting through a public records request with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Those minutes confirmed that Salinas was the parent who filed the five complaints.

In attendance at the meeting were the school's principal, Yecenia Martinez, as well as three teachers, the school's librarian, a guidance counselor, a local chairperson, and a principal from a different school.

According to the minutes, Salinas' complaints had requested that all five books be removed "from the total environment." However, that's not at all what the committee decided.

In order to make its decisions, the committee focused on a school board rule that laid out various criteria. These criteria included fostering "respect for diverse roles" in society, as well as nurturing "cultural appreciation" and representing "the many religious, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups in our society and reflect[ing] their contributions to the heritage and culture of our civilization."

The Committee's Decisions

Regarding "Countries in the News: Cuba," the first book to be considered, the committee "determined that information presented in this book was balanced and age appropriate in its wording and presentation," and decided that it was to "remain on the shelf in the Information Section of the Media Center." The school library's website mentioned two sets of guidance in regard to the recommended "interest grade level" for the book. According to the website, Follet Library Resources said the work was for 3rd through 6th grades, while Medialog, Inc. recommended it for grades K-3.

With "Cuban Kids," the second book reviewed, the committee found that its narrative was "neutral" and determined it was "appropriate for middle school students." The minutes read, "Therefore, the decision of the SMRC is that the book continue to be shelved in the Middle School Section of the Media Center." At the same time, the school library's website mentioned that the book was recommended for younger students, saying that the "interest grade level" was "K-3," a recommendation from Follett Library Resources.

As for "The Hill We Climb," here's the full text from the minutes:

The third book discussed was "The Hill We Climb." Clarification was made that the book's author is Amanda Gorman. The book contains a foreword by Oprah Winfrey. Amanda Gorman was the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. The poem "The Hill We Climb" was read at the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20, 2021. Gorman is the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration in United States history. For these reasons the SMRC determined the book has educational value because of its historical significance. The vocabulary used in the poem was determined to be of value for middle school students. Therefore, the decision of the SMRC is that the book be shelved in the Middle School Section of the Media Center.

In other words, the minutes reflect that the committee appeared to look at "The Hill We Climb" in a positive light, concluding that it had "educational value" and "historical significance."

Nowhere in the minutes did it say that Gorman's book would be "banned" or that elementary students would be forbidden from reading her poem in the library.

For "The Hill We Climb," the school library's website displayed the following information: "Interest grade level: 7-Adult."

Regarding the final two books that were considered, the committee found that the content and subject matter of poems in "Love to Langston" would "be better suited for middle school readers," and that "The ABCs of Black History" would also be "more appropriate for middle school students." The committee decided that both books be "shelved in the Middle School Section of the Media Center." Meanwhile, on the school library's website, it said "Love to Langston" had an "interest grade level" of grades K-3 and that "The ABCs of Black History" was meant for 1st through 4th grades.

Salinas' complaints did not achieve her goal of removing the works from the library. Instead, the committee reviewed the works according to guidelines that had been previously established by the school board, and four of the five of the books were shelved and made available in the middle school section.

Statement from the School District

On the night of May 23, the school district, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, published a brief statement on Twitter. It read: "In order to ensure accurate information, [Miami-Dade Schools] is compelled to clarify that the book titled, 'The Hill We Climb' by [Amanda Gorman] was never banned or removed from one of our schools. The book is available in the media center as part of the middle grades collection."

The next day, we contacted the district to request comment. A media relations representative sent a statement to Snopes that was similar to the tweet it had posted the day before: "No literature (books or poem) has been banned or removed. It was determined at the school that 'The Hill We Climb' is better suited for middle school students and it was shelved in the middle school section of the media center. The book remains available in the media center."

In our correspondence with the school district, we received no indication that an elementary-age child would meet resistance from a librarian should they want to walk over to the middle school section of the library to read the works.

Letter Sent to Parents

On May 24, leadership with Bob Graham Education Center sent a message home to parents in the form of a voice message and email. Snopes confirmed its authenticity with the school district.

This message reassured parents that the poem "remains accessible to all students":

Dear Parents:

Bob Graham Education Center remains committed to providing a quality program of library media center services to our students that includes quality materials in a variety of formats and reading levels that offer a well-balanced coverage of subjects and support the diverse interests, needs, and viewpoints of our school community.

Recently, there has been media coverage regarding one of the books in our collection entitled, "The Hill We Climb." This text was reviewed and placed in the middle grades area of our school media center.

As an additional point of information, "The Hill We Climb" is classified as "Young Adult" in Titlewave by Follet and categorized as "Middle Grades" in Accelerated Reader.

However, to be clear, even though "The Hill We Climb" is located in the middle grades area of our media center, it remains accessible to all students.

However, the Washington Post reported on May 24 that Miami-Dade County Public Schools media relations specialist Ana Rhodes had indicated that the only way elementary students could read Gorman's poem would be to request it from a media specialist and then prove that they could read at a fifth-grade level. Without proving they could read at that level, they would not be able to read the poem, the article said.

We asked the district several questions about this claim in order to add facts and any additional context to our own reporting. Days later, we had not received any answers to our questions.

DeSantis and Book Bans

At least one popular tweet about this subject appeared to claim that DeSantis himself had "announced he's banning Amanda Gorman's poem."

However, DeSantis made no such announcement, nor was there any evidence that he had a direct hand in initiating the complaint and/or review of Gorman's poem.

Aside from the case at Bob Graham Education Center, a case that appeared to not include any banned books, The AP reported that book bans were "happening much more frequently, especially in Florida — where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has championed policies that allow the censorship of books some have deemed inappropriate for children in schools, causing national uproar."

Sources

"Amanda Gorman's Poem for Biden's Inauguration Banned by Florida School." The Associated Press, 24 May 2023, https://apnews.com/article/amanda-gorman-inauguration-poem-banned-florida-9d3b83da51515b8961cfebd441f9a851.

Brugal, Sommer. "Miami-Dade K-8 Bars Elementary Students from 4 Library Titles Following Parent Complaint." Miami Herald, 24 May 2023, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article275671496.html.

Florida Freedom to Read Project. Twitter, 19 May 2023, https://twitter.com/FLFreedomRead/status/1659697217341620224.

Gorman, Amanda. Twitter, 23 May 2023, https://twitter.com/TheAmandaGorman/status/1661131819717390336.

Holpuch, Amanda. "Florida School Restricts Access to Amanda Gorman's Inauguration Poem." The New York Times, 24 May 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/24/us/biden-inauguration-poem-florida-ban-amanda-gorman.html.

Updates

May 25, 2023: This report was updated to include relevant information from the minutes of a school committee meeting.

May 26, 2023: This report was updated to include grade level guidance from the school library's website.

May 27, 2023: This report was updated to include a message that was sent home to parents.

June 2, 2023: This article was updated to include a report from the Washington Post concerning limitations on elementary students' ability to access Gorman's poem.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.

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