There’s quite a bit to discuss today, so let’s get right to it.
There are a lot of links in this post to various news articles and opinion pieces. If you only click on one link, though, then click on this one. This is a thorough news piece in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: New law expected to prompt more school curricula challenges
According to the law, the only qualification a hearing officer needs is that he or she “may not be an employee or agent of the school district.”
“I don’t mind that any community member can bring forward a complaint; we listen to those a lot. But how many complaints do we have to hear about every library book that somebody doesn’t like?” said Charlie Kennedy, chairman of the Manatee County School Board and a former teacher and coach at Manatee High School. “They’re going to be coming after Harry Potter because of witchcraft — it’s a Pandora’s box that nobody thought about.
“It’s just another unfunded mandate from Tallahassee whipped up by anti-science people. It’s going to waste so much time, and it’s embarrassing.”
Many other news articles and opinion pieces I’ve read got the hearing officer part of this law wrong. They incorrectly state that the hearing officer makes the final decision. The Herald-Tribune got it right, though. The hearing officer just makes a recommendation to the school board, which then makes the final decision.
Here’s an important segment of the news story that we need to be mindful of going forward in our dealings with this law. Can you spot what I’m referring to?
The legislation was sponsored by state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, whose Collier County constituents include a four-year-old group of activists called the Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FLCA). On its website, the FLCA lists six categories where it has identified “specific objectionable materials” in public schools: “English language arts, pornography, reconstructed history and advanced placement US history, religious indoctrination, political indoctrination, and Common Core math methodologies.”
FLCA co-founder Rick Stevens, pastor at Diplomat Wesleyan Church in Cape Coral, says objections to the new law based on fears of triggering anti-science zealotry are red herrings.
“I’m always amused that this climate change stuff comes up. Because that wasn’t us and I’ve been involved in this since the beginning of our initiative. We have never advocated for specific things so much as we’ve said there is a flaw in the process,” he said. “And what we take issue with the most is the inability of parents in Florida to be heard about their concerns.”
I can’t believe the reporter let Stevens get away with this. Stevens flat out told a whopper of a lie. “Because that wasn’t us …” Really? You can read all of the proof that he’s lying for yourself in my long, detailed post outlining the history of this law. For specifics, scroll down in that post to the section “What does this have to do with evolution?”
Fortunately, there are other folks out there who see this law for what it is:
Kennedy, the Manatee School Board chairman, said all he can do now is wait for the Florida Department of Education to write rules that comply with the statute.
“So we’ve got a couple of people in Collier County who think climate change is a myth and they turn it into a statewide issue,” he said. “It’s such a joke. It’s like, what is this, 1940?”
OK, let’s lighten the mood here with a few humorous columns.
Word of our horrible new instructional materials law has reached North Carolina. Columnist Scott Hollifield feels left out of our textbook challenging game: Demanding our say in Florida education
I agree with the Florida Citizens for Science that it’s a bad law, but only for this reason: It does not go far enough. Let me repeat the last part in capital letters adding exclamation points, which is what nut jobs — er, I mean concerned citizens — do when they are making a point. Also, I am standing on a soapbox and shaking my fist angrily while I type this, which is difficult but not impossible.
IT DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH!!
If people who do not have kids in schools in Florida can complain about what kids are taught in schools in Florida, why can’t anyone who has ever been to Florida complain about what kids are taught in schools in Florida?
It only seems fair, if not wildly ridiculous like the new law itself.
Meanwhile, back here in Florida, TC Palm columnist Gil Smart takes a turn at slamming the instructional materials law: Don’t like a school’s curriculum? Now you can challenge it
Yes, the new law might spark challenges to evolution and climate change.
But the challenges won’t be limited to science; the law permits any resident to challenge anything.
And some school officials are bracing for the deluge.
“This is a way for people to completely halt the progress of schools,” said Tina McSoley, who chairs the Martin County School Board and is a member of the Florida School Boards Association’s Legislative Committee. “They can come in and say, ‘No more Tom Sawyer’ because they don’t like the use of curse words.”
History, civics, English language arts — it could all be up for grabs in every district, McSoley said, depending on the complaints and how the hearing officers decide.
And yet another columnist, Tom Lyons of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, focuses on one of the most troubling aspects of the new law: The unbiased hearing officer will hear your nutty complaint now, sir.
The thing is, the notion that anyone chosen for that role could be unbiased is absurd. To find someone without opinions on such matters we would pretty much have to find someone who is dysfunctionally oblivious.
The hearing officers will only make recommendations to school boards. The governor and our lawmakers have not yet gone totally nuts and handed all power to this imagined, unbiased decider. But the idea that every gripe no matter how silly about any sentence in any textbook deserves a hearing is, at best, incredibly cumbersome.
I should not complain. This will no doubt create column fodder by providing lots of chances for people to argue.
Those who think their preferred religious text is the only book anyone really needs, and who insist the earth is 6,000 years old and that a “Flintstones” cartoon is more accurate than a public school biology text book, will inspire reactions from amused to outraged. As a columnist, I should be delighted.
And the final link for today is to the Orlando Sentinel. They do a quick rundown of several of this year’s new laws affecting education: Florida gets new school rules on testing, books, bonuses
Residents — and not just parents — who dislike books, textbooks or other “instructional materials” used in public schools should find it easier to challenge those items.
Backers say the measure will give those who find certain books inappropriate a better way to voice their objections. Critics say the new law could lead to censorship of important literary works or hurt science education, by opening the door to challenges to controversial topics, such as evolution.
“Unfortunately, the devious Instructional Materials bill, which creationists and climate change deniers absolutely love, is now signed into law,” wrote Brandon Haught, a Volusia County biology teacher, on the Florida Citizens for Science blog.
Students can express their religious views in classwork, in clothing and jewelry worn to school and by praying during free time under a new law.
Critics say the measure was unnecessary as state and federal laws already guarantee such freedoms. Those who pushed the new “religious liberties” measure said students need the new protections because some school administrators fear allowing such expression because it will look like they are endorsing religion.
“Students should not have to surrender their constitutional rights or their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door. Neither should teachers, administrators or parents,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, one of the bill’s sponsors, in a statement after it became law.