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Miami Schools Try to Ban Cuba Book

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Miami Schools Try to Ban Cuba Book

Education

Miami Schools Try to Ban Cuba Book

Miami Schools Try to Ban Cuba Book

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The Miami-Dade school board seeks to ban a book on Cuba, saying its portrait of life there is overly positive. A federal judge has ordered Vamos a Cuba back on school library shelves while the district fights a lawsuit aimed at keeping the book available.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

A V: A Visit to Cuba.

Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN: You can find the book in libraries, like the one at Bob Graham Educational Center in Miami Lakes. It's just 32 pages, colorful picture book depicting life in Cuba. But critics find much in these 32 pages that they don't like. Their biggest complaint is here on page five. The line, people in Cuba eat, work and go to school like you do.

Frank Bolaños is a school board member.

FRANK BOLA: In Cuba when it comes to food, folks receive a rationing book. The children are left without milk by age six. So, you know, if you get into content, there is a lot of historical inaccuracy and factual inaccuracy in the book.

ALLEN: Bolaños is one of those pushing hardest for the book's removal from school libraries, but he's not alone. Four other Cuban-Americans on the Miami Dade school board, and many others in the community, are adamant that the book has no place in Miami schools.

A Visit to Cuba is just one volume in a 24-set travel series intended for kindergarteners through second graders. The book first became an issue in April after Juan Amador Rodrigues'(ph) 10-year-old daughter brought the Spanish language version home from school to show her father.

Juan Amador is a Cuban exile and former political prisoner who grew angry when he saw what the book contained. Along with the statement that people in Cuba eat, work and go to school like you do, Amador thought the book was wrong in what it left out, providing none of the details about life under a repressive regime that he recalled in Cuba.

At a special meeting of the school board yesterday, Amador asked board members - through an interpreter - to continue the battle, which has now landed in federal courts.

JUAN AMADOR RODRIGUES: (Through translator) We cannot allow a judge to decide what our children are going to read. Because then we will have to turn in the administration of our schools to the courts.

ALLEN: In June, after two review committees ruled that the book should remain in school libraries, the board decided to remove it anyway. Enter the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit on first amendment grounds. A federal judge agreed with the ACLU and ordered the books restored.

Which brings us back to yesterday's board meeting. Despite the strongly worded judge's opinion and the steadily rising legal costs, the board voted to appeal. After the vote, Board Chairman Augustine Barrera called A Visit to Cuba the most difficult decision the board has faced.

AUGUSTINE BARRERA: Part of me says, you know, let's just end it and let's move on with our lives. But then at the end of the day, this really goes beyond our school district. It's really about the right of the school boards across the country to decide what goes into the school systems.

ALLEN: Berrera and other board members say the dispute is not just about a children's book, but also about First Amendment rights weighed against the authority of a school board to decide what students should learn.

Virginia Rosen, president of the Miami ACLU, says her group isn't disputing the board's authority.

VIRGINIA ROSEN: The problem here is that the school board has decided to ban a book based upon the political ideology. And when that happens, it's not a judge who makes the decision. It's the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States of America that are interpreted by a judge.

ALLEN: The dispute now is also about politics. Berrera is up for reelection to the board, and is facing a challenger who says the chairman has not worked hard enough to ban the book. And the most vocal book opponent on the board, Frank Bolaños, has used the issue to fuel his campaign for the state Senate.

So far the board has spent $120,000 on the case, an amount that could double on appeal. Yesterday, the board's attorney told members that in her opinion, winning the case would be neither easy nor inexpensive.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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