Censorship is widespread and increasing in the nation's public schools, according to a national survey of school officials being released today.
Nearly a quarter of the officials said one or more books, films and magazines in their libraries and classrooms were challenged during the time covered by the study, the largest of its kind ever undertaken.
Half the challenges resulted in some form of censorship -- including restricting circulation of the material, removing it from school, cutting out offending parts or utterly destroying it.
Of those reporting a change in the amount of censorship, 75 percent said it was increasing. The challenges, which in the 1970s included protests from women and minorities, lately have come chiefly from groups on the right.
The survey of 1,891 school officials was carried out last year and covered the two school years before Ronald Reagan was elected president. It was sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
In a more informal count this last school year, Judith Krug of the American Library Association said, the number of censorship cases reported to the ALA not only continued to increase after Reagan's election, but took a fivefold leap -- from three or four cases per week to three or four cases per day.
Among books and other reading material restricted, altered, removed or destroyed, the larger study listed: Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Superman, Sports Illustrated magazine, Love Story by Eric Segal, Mad magazine, Mademoiselle magazine, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Esquire magazine, Jaws by Peter Benchley, Working by Studs Terkel and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut.
The challenges to books around the country, according to the survey, resulted chiefly from objectins to language and references to sex.
For example, in the cases of banned dictionaries, says Krug, "it's the bad words they object to, especially the double meanings in the definitions. 'Bed' is not only a noun, but . . . a verb meaning 'to hae sexual intercourse with'."
Krug said that a list of 40 offensive words was once prepared by a fundamentalist group attempting to ban a dictionary. The words included: hot, hooker, coke, clap, deflower, tail, ball, knocker and nuts.
The American Heritage Dictionary has been banned in schools in three communities in recent years, and five standard American dictionaries were banned from Texas schools in the mid-'70s, Krug said.
In the survey of local schools, those who challenged books were mostly parents acting on their own, and only about one in six challenges was reported as l;inked to groups outside the local school district, such as the John Birch Society, the NAACP and fundamentalist organizations.
The study also asked school officials at the state level about challenges in the 22 states that approve texts on a statewide basis. Nine of the states reported receiving one or more textbook challenges, more than half coming from rightist groups located outside the state.
Censorship in general can be dealt with most effectively, the study said, if school districts adopt written rules for approving books and dealing with challenges. Schools with such policies had more challenges to their books, but had a substantially lower rate of removals.