The need to defend science education in Florida is truly never ending. I chronicled the many skirmishes, battles and wars fought over the teaching of evolution in my book Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom. The Florida anti-evolution efforts I wrote about started in the 1920s and with only a few brief breaks continued all the way to the point where Going Ape left off in 2011. I invite you to read the timeline I made of those events here.
But the battle has raged on since then. So, I felt it was important to add to the timeline for the sake of completeness. Below are the significant events that have happened since 2011. Feel free to let me know if I missed anything or made any mistakes.
- A new law passed in Florida changed the way textbooks are vetted and approved for adoption statewide. Instead of selection committees being formed from people across the state, the state commissioner of education appoints a three-person panel of “subject matter experts.” The bill was sponsored by Rep. Marti Coley, who was an anti-evolution advocate during the state science standards revision process in 2008.
- Scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History discovered their vehicles, which display evolution related bumper stickers and Darwin fish, were repeatedly vandalized, including nails driven through tires.
- The Thomas B. Fordham Institute graded Florida’s relatively new (approved in 2008) science standards and gave them a D. After some complaints, the Institute revised their grade to a C.
- Terry Kemple (who had a role on the anti-evolution side of the battle over the revision of the state science standards in 2008) runs for Hillsborough County School Board. He’s quoted as saying: “the fact that the state requires us to teach that evolution is the be-all and end-all is a travesty.” He makes it to a runoff election but loses.
- Kim Kendall (who had a role on the anti-evolution side of the battle over the revision of the state science standards in 2008) runs for a seat in the Florida House. She loses. But it was noted during the election debates: “Possibly the biggest stunner of the night was agreement by all three [candidates] that creationism should be taught along with evolution in St. Johns County science classes, not just in church or at home.”
- World Changers of Florida successfully sues to allow bible distribution on public school campuses. The group’s president, Jerry Rutherford, tells a reporter that he hopes to get public schools to offer creationism as a competing theory to evolution.
- Florida education officials consider the national Next Generation Science Standards for adoption but eventually decide against it.
- A biology teacher at A. Crawford Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, Florida, screened Creation Science Evangelism videos during an evolution lesson, attracting the attention of the ACLU of Florida.
- Bills in the Florida legislature seek to change the way textbooks are selected. The bill is eventually watered down and passed into law. The law allows school districts to choose not to use the state-approved list of textbooks and instead conduct their own local review and selection process. (In 2018, Marion County was the only district to do this since the bill became law.)
- Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom by Florida Citizens for Science founding board member Brandon Haught is published by the University Press of Florida.
- University of North Florida hosts a panel discussion on evolution vs. creation: “Faith & Reason: The Origin of Humanity.” About 500 people attended.
- Bills in the Florida legislature would expand the state’s school voucher programs, but die.
- A study reveals that at least 164 voucher-accepting private schools in Florida teach some form of creationism in science classes.
- Bills in the Florida legislature (one by Sen. Alan Hays) seek to change the way textbooks are selected for use in public schools. These bills would remove the state-level vetting process entirely and turn the entire textbooks selection process over to each individual school district. Hays’ proposal would require each school board to create a committee made up of half teachers, half residents to choose the textbooks. His bill has lengthy Web-posting and public-hearing requirements. But by the end of the legislative session, the bill that was finally passed into law was watered down to essentially giving parents a new method to object to their school board about textbooks.
- Gov. Rick Scott appoints Andy Tuck to the state board of education. Tuck had protested against the teaching of evolution in public schools when he served on a local school board back in 2008.
- Candidate for Pinellas County school board, Ken Peluso, was asked about teaching creationism. He said, “I think creationism and evolution should be taught side by side and I don’t care what classroom.” Later, he clarified his statement, saying it should only be taught in something like a world religions class.
- Florida Gov. Rick Scott is accused of giving orders that “state officials are not permitted to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ in environmental reports or talks. The term ‘sea-level rise’ was also replaced with the term ‘nuisance flooding.’”
- Presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a U.S. senator representing Florida, was asked about the teaching of evolution. He expressed support for schools to teach “about the fact that there are other theories out there that exist as well.”
- A controversial class assignment forced a Volusia County school to issue an apology. The lesson has since been pulled from Heritage Middle School. It was called “Not Just a Theory.” The assignment was on scientific standards, differentiating between a scientific theory and scientific law. The lesson, however, turned personal for parents because of two lines: “Next time someone tries to tell you that evolution is just a theory, as a way of dismissing it, as if it’s just something someone guesses at, remember that they’re using the non-scientific meaning of the word. If that person is a teacher, or a minister, or some other figure of authority, they should know better. In fact, they probably do, and are trying to mislead you.”
- Bills filed in the state legislature (one filed by Sen. Alan Hays) “creates a process that lets parents object to the textbooks. It requires school districts to hold a public hearing if someone complains about the books that are being used.” The bills were signed into law. (But in subsequent years groups like the Florida Citizens’ Alliance claimed that school districts ignored this law, prompting the Alliance to push for stronger laws on this topic of textbook objections.)
- Bills filed in the state legislature (one filed by Sen. Alan Hays) would dramatically alter the textbook selection process, allowing for citizens to complain about the textbook content and ultimately take school boards to court. The bills died. The bills originated with the conservative group Florida Citizens’ Alliance. Among a long list of complaints the Alliance has with various textbooks are issues they have with evolution such as two pages in a history book that “teach the children that we descended from apes. This is stated as a fact not a theory. Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.”
- Voting guides in Walton County, Sumter County, St. Lucie County, Okaloosa County, Lake County and Clay County include questions for candidates about evolution and intelligent design.
- [March for Science events held across the country and across Florida.]
- Global-warming-denying conservative think tank The Heartland Institute mails propaganda materials to every science teacher in the country (including Florida) “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.”
- Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law (written and promoted by the Florida Citizens’ Alliance) that targets the teaching of climate change and evolution. It empowers those who want to object to the use of specific instructional materials in public schools. Now, any resident can file a complaint about instructional material; it used to be limited to parents with a child in the schools. Any time a complaint is filed, the affected school board must appoint a hearing officer and conduct official hearings.
- Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law called The Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act (originally filed in the state legislature by Sen. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Kim Daniels). Some areas of concern related to science are that it allows students to give religious-based answers to school assignments/assessments and the teacher can be accused of discrimination if the answer is marked wrong; and the law appears to allow teachers to express religious views in their classrooms (perhaps allowing a teacher to express creationist views, for instance).
- Florida Citizens’ Alliance partners with Truth In Textbooks to offer training on how to review school textbooks. And the Alliance is also partnering with the global warming denying organization The Heartland Institute.
- Florida Citizens for Science founding board member Brandon Haught was a guest on the popular radio program Science Friday and wrote a guest column in the science journal Nature.
- The Nassau County school board heard from a citizen who asked that a disclaimer sticker be placed in all textbooks that mention evolution. Even though school officials were sympathetic to the man’s point of view, they turned him down on legal grounds.
- The Clay County school board debates the adoption of new science textbooks. Superintendent Addison Davis said “In no way, shape or form do our textbooks or will our textbooks ever reflect evolution as a fact because the fact that our state standards does not allow us to do so.” Science textbooks are adopted on a narrow 3-2 vote.
- A pair of Controversial Theories bills (otherwise known as Academic Freedom bills) filed in the state legislature (one of them by Sen. Dennis Baxley) would have required in district-adopted science standards that: “Controversial theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” The bills died.
- A pair of bills filed in the state legislature would have changed how instructional materials are reviewed and selected, allowing for many more opportunities for creationists and climate change deniers to improperly influence the process. The bills died.
- The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to consider making changes to the state constitution, proposed a measure that would remove from the state Constitution the so-called “no-aid” provision, which prevents public spending on churches and other religiously affiliated groups. This would make it legal to give state government money directly to religious private schools that teach things like creationism. The change to the constitution is never made.
- The Orlando Sentinel runs a story in their “Schools Without Rules” series about private schools that get public money through voucher programs: “Private schools’ curriculum downplays slavery, says humans and dinosaurs lived together.” Florida Citizens for Science is included in the story.
- Complaints about evolution and global warming in science textbooks under adoption consideration spark an official hearing in Collier County. The complaints fail on a narrow 3-2 vote. The textbooks are adopted as is. Florida Citizens’ Alliance plays a lead role in complaining about the books.
- Complaints about evolution in science textbooks under adoption consideration spark an official hearing in Martin County. The complaints fail on a narrow 3-2 vote. The textbooks are adopted as is.
- Organizations, such as Florida Votes Values and the Clay Family Policy Forum, issue voter guides that include candidates’ stances on the teaching of evolution.
- M.I.T.’s online magazine Undark published a deep dive story about efforts to undermine the teaching of global warming facts in public schools: “In America’s Science Classrooms, the Creep of Climate Skepticism: Conservative groups are working hard to challenge the teaching of mainstream climate science in schools. In Florida, they’ve found a winning strategy.” The story features both Florida Citizens’ Alliance and Florida Citizens for Science.
- Newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis appoints members of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance to his education transition team.
- Gov. Ron DeSantis issues executive order: “By January 1, 2020, the Commissioner of Education shall comprehensively review Florida’s Kindergarten through grade twelve academic standards and provide recommended revisions to the Governor.” There is concern about how science standards would be revised. But the focus of the revision efforts were on “Common Core” subjects math and language arts, and civics. Despite the executive order that all standards would be reviewed, science is never mentioned during the process.
- Sen. Dennis Baxley filed bill that would require “Controversial theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” Bill died.
- Bills targeting instructional materials would, among other things, require them to have “noninflammatory viewpoints on controversial issues.” Bills died.
- [Bills allowing high school science and math courses to be replaced with Career and Technical Education certification courses are filed. The bills were modified and eventually passed into law.]
- State legislature approves new voucher program that allows money to be taken directly from state coffers and given to private schools. The private schools are completely unregulated and unaccountable in Florida, with many known to discriminate against students and teachers (for being gay, for instance) and many religious schools teach blatant anti-science ideas, such as creationism.
- Andy Tuck is installed as the chairman of the state Board of Education. He had stated in the past: “I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.” When confronted with this, he updated his views to say: “I support standards that ensure students use critical thinking skills to explore multiple views of the world around them.”
- [Concerns about teacher shortages overall, and science in particular, become more and more of a concern. The Florida Department of Education annually reports the subject areas experiencing critical teacher shortages. In this year’s report “Science-General” was ranked the number one critical shortage. The report stated that in the 2018-2019 school year there were 1,026 science courses across the state led by teachers without certification in the subjects. Fewer people want to be be teachers. For example, the number of people taking the teacher certification exam in Earth/Space Science plummeted from 231 in 2015 to 140 in 2018. And not all of those most recent 140 are ready for the classroom; a little more than a quarter of them failed the exam. Public high schools with at least 1,000 students, 36 of them did not offer physics at all. This is an increase over the previous year’s tally of 31. Gov. Rob DeSantis flippantly dismissed physics when he said: “Other than trying to keep my kids from falling down the stairs in the Governor’s mansion I don’t know how much I deal with physics daily.”]
- Parental Bill of Rights bill filed in state legislature doesn’t target any particular subject, but does say this, which could impact “controversial” subjects in science: “The bill would require, among other things, school district procedures for parents to opt their children out of lessons and materials they find objectionable.”
- A bill filed in the state legislature targeted the disparity in academic standards between public schools and private schools that accept vouchers. “[The bill]would also have private schools follow state academic expectations for students, administer state exams and receive state grades. Stewart would not seek to control curriculum, noting that many families choose private schools for religious instruction. She said she does not wish to interfere with that desire.”