Saturday, November 29, 2008

ACLU: Vamos A Cuba Lawsuit

In 2006, a book called Vamos A Cuba was challenged by the father of a student in the Miami-Dade County Public School system for allegedly "painting too rosy a life under Castro's Cuba." The book is for 5-8 year olds between Kindergarten and 2nd Grade and is filled mostly with pictures and an average of one sentence per page. Some questionable content included "In Cuba, children eat, work, and go to school like you do."

In response to the challenge, the School Board of Miami-Dade County formed two committees, a school-based and a district-based committee, in which to review the book for objectionable content and provide recommendations to the Board. Both committees recommended allowing the book to remain in school libraries.

Against those recommendations, the School Board voted to ban the book any way and begun the process of pulling the book from elementary schools. In response, the Miami-Dade County Student Government Association, the largest student organization in the County representing 370,00 students in every school in the District and that which I was President of at the time, contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and together filed a federal lawsuit against the School Board of Miami-Dade County, FL demanding that the books be returned to the schools.
The story is long and the details gritty but in short, we won and the books were returned. We are currently in appeal but are confident the results will be similar.

ACLU Press Release 2006

Speaking the 2006 ACLU National Conference

After distinguishing himself as President of the Miami-Dade County Student Government Association and conducting a Student Right's Conference, Ronald Bilbao was placed on a District Committee to review the potential banning of the book Vamos a Cuba (Trip to Cuba). The book had been on shelves for years until an ex-political prisoner of Castro's regime raised the compliant that the book's depiction of Cuban life did not match his experience with the country. Despite strong opposition from its legal counsel and Bilbao's committee, the school board voted 6-3 to ban the book and proceeded to ban 20 other books in the same series. Believing that students have the right to have access to any educational resource, regardless of political content, the SGA joined the ACLU to sue the school board. After testifying in court, Bilbao saw a victory for himself and student rights and the school board was ordered to return all of the removed books to the schools' libraries. After the suit, Bilbao maintains, "There have always been those that challenge the basic freedoms and liberties that this country was founded on. But there will always be others that will dedicate themselves to preserving a true America, in its basic and purest form, the way our founders saw it, and the way only true Americans can still see it. That is the ACLU."

Listen to the podcast from the conference.