Florida legislator is back to protect us from “witchcraft”

Kim Daniels will be back in Tallahassee for the next legislative session, having won her recent primary election and facing no opponent in the general election.

Daniels was a sponsor of the Religious Expression in Schools law that we here at Florida Citizens for Science opposed in 2017. She was also responsible for the In God We Trust law that requires all Florida public schools to prominently display that motto. That law was in response to the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. There was recent backlash by school districts against the law. Some opted to display the Florida state seal, which has the motto on it, instead of an obnoxious sign.

Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino explains a little bit of Daniels’ background in his recent piece: Will God sign off on this PBC public school plan?

The law was the mission of Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, a sketchy new member of the House of Representatives who is a religious entrepreneur who calls herself an “apostle” and imagines that America is under attack by “witchcraft coming from Kenya to influence our president.”

Daniels’ Spoken Word Ministries is a merchandise-heavy operation with some ungodly expenses, like a birthday Cadillac Escalade for her ex-husband and tax-exempt $1 million home in Davie called a “parsonage.”

She’s a deep well of nuttiness on a variety of topics, such as slavery, which she calls a blessing, and the Holocaust, which she also finds to be not as bad as advertised.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has taken note of this Florida law, and similar laws in other states, and makes an important point:

State legislators have not been coming up with the idea and strategy to pass these “In God We Trust” bills on their own. These bills are the first step of a nationwide strategy called Project Blitz — a playbook created by three Christian nationalist groups to pass state bills that undermine religious freedom and redefine the U.S. as a Christian nation. They hope to use bills like “In God We Trust” as a stepping stone to even more damaging bills that allow public schools to promote prayer, teach creationism, and eventually allow the government to use religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people, women, and religious minorities.

Now that Daniels has secured her seat in Tallahassee for a couple more years, what shenanigans can we expect from her? Stay tuned.

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We did it! Six classrooms are getting requested science supplies.

Thank you! Our 5th Science Supplies Fundraising Campaign via Donors Choose is now wrapped up. We raised $1,186.99 for six projects requested by teachers all across Florida. Here’s our first four projects your donations helped make a reality:

Amazing Reactions in Science” at Mariner Middle School, Cape Coral

Enhancing Our Science Classroom” at Eneida Massas Hartner Elementary School, Miami

Building Bonds” at Seminole High School, Sanford

DASH and Doodle” at Pinetta Elementary School, Pinetta

But then we here at Florida Citizens for Science needed to chip in our promised $500. So, we topped off the donations for a few of the above projects and then had money left over to fund two additional projects:

Do All Babies Look Like Their Parents?” at Cranberry Elementary School, North Port, FL

Experience Erosion” at Tomoka Elementary School, Ormond Beach, FL

Thank you to everyone who chipped in!

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The Storms has passed

I had neglected to check on the status of Ronda Storms’ Florida House election campaign. I’m so sorry. The good news is that she lost: Florida House: Ronda Storms’ comeback ends in GOP primary

Republican candidate Joe Wicker said he received a concession call about 9 p.m. from opponent Ronda Storms in the District 59 State House Republican primary.

For those of you who have been along for the ride with us here at Florida Citizens for Science since the early days, you very likely know Storms was one of the most polarizing opponents we faced back in 2008. If you don’t know her or just need a refresher, Storms sponsored and went all in for a bill in the state Senate that was a response to the brand new state science standards that had just been approved at the time. Those new standards prominently featured evolution and Storms fumed at that. She filed SB 2692:

The Teaching of Chemical and Biological Evolution [SPCC]; Cites act as the “Evolution Academic Freedom Act.” Provides public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical evolution. Prohibits a teacher from being discriminated against for presenting such information. Prohibits students from being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution, etc.

It was approved by the Senate and the House approved its version of the same bill, but the two bills were very different and couldn’t be reconciled by the end of the legislative session, thus killing both. The huge fight made big news back then and made up all of chapter 10 “Who Gets to Decide What Is Science” in my book Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom. Storms had several colorful quotes and jaw-dropping things to say about evolution throughout the legislative session.

Fortunately, Storms doesn’t get a do-over. But I’m sure new crazies will pop up in the next legislative session. They always do.

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School Boards Election Fallout

We’ve had some interesting times this year putting out fires concerning evolution and climate change in new science textbooks up for adoption in a few Florida school districts. Did those experiences impact school board elections in those counties? Of course, there were many other issues voters had on their minds, but perhaps battles over science education were on those lists of issues. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Collier County: Four citizens had filed 220 objections to the textbooks and cited in their written objections filed with the school district many creationist sources but then claimed during the hearing that their complaints had nothing to do with religion. The marathon five-hour hearing and board member deliberation (June 18, 2018) eventually resulted in a narrow 3-2 vote in favor of adopting new science textbooks without any alterations or supplemental materials. One school board member on the losing side claimed that it’s okay for the concept of intelligent design to be taught in science classrooms and the other school board member who voted no accused the books of pushing a political agenda concerning climate change. Election Update: Both of those who voted no to the science textbooks are now gone: Roy Terry and Jen Mitchell elected to Collier County School Board

Throughout their four-year terms, [Kelly] Lichter and [Erika] Donalds have brought a conservative perspective to the board; they pushed for the district to share capital funding with charter schools and backed a group of far-right education advocates in their mission to rid schools of textbooks they said “indoctrinate” students with lessons about Islam, evolution and human-induced climate change.

Their views have often put them on the losing side of 3-2 votes. The pair’s replacements, Westberry and Mitchell, however, have far less conservative views that are more in line with the rest of the board, and their election will likely bring about a string of unanimous votes.

Though the political battle over the local School Board may be over for now, the county’s ultraconservative groups are refocusing their efforts on the state, and Collier board members may be forced to reckon with state legislation they disagree with.

Martin County: School board member Rebecca Negron spent more than half an hour at the June 5 board meeting attempting to dazzle the audience with endless quotes that appeared to show scientists versus scientists arguing over the validity of evolution. She did this in an attempt to convince everyone that the science textbooks under consideration for purchase violate Florida statute that requires the books be “accurate, objective, and balanced.” How can the books be accurate and balanced if so many “evolutionists” (she kept on pointing out these quotes came from scientists and evolutionists) were refuting what was in the high school science textbooks? Election Update: Negron is out: Retired educator Victoria Defenthaler wins seat on Martin County School Board

Victoria Defenthaler defeated incumbent Rebecca Negron in a School Board race clouded by attack ads funneled into Martin County from outside the region.

Defenthaler, a retired educator, raised and spent more during her campaign, but one political action committee alone threw nearly $31,000 more into a massive mailing on Negron’s behalf.

Clay County: School board member Ashley Gilhousen protested during a board meeting: “But my difficulty lies in the narrow scope as it relates to the theory of human and species origin in that the only theory mentioned is evolution. And all that is expected for students to know is its supporting evidence and none of its flaws. At best, this limited level of exposure for students to the highly contested views on the origin of life and species is negligent. At the worst it’s intellectually deceptive.” Election Update: Gilhousen is in a runoff: ‘The real winners are the children of Clay County’.

Bullock teamed up on the campaign trail with incumbent Janice Kerekes and political newcomer Lynne Hirabayashi Chafee under the moniker of JLT. Chafee, a Guardian ad Litem children’s advocate, will be in a runoff in November with first-term District 5 school board member incumbent Ashley Gilhousen, the top two vote getters in a three-way race. Gilhousen received 18,397 votes, Chafee received 11,134 and Travis Christensen received 8,158.

Interesting results, don’t you think? Have you kept an eye on your own local school board elections? Let us know if you have any concerns so that we can keep an eye on them!

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Progress report on fundraising for science supplies campaign

We’re about halfway through our month-long campaign raising funds for science supplies requested by Florida teachers via Donors Choose (see our post launching this 5th annual fundraiser here). And I’m happy to report that we’ve raised $590 so far and fully funded one of our chosen projects! Awesome job, folks. But we’re still steaming ahead until our official wrap up on Sept. 18. We have at least three other projects to fund; we’re so close!

Mrs. Wieman Starling at Mariner Middle School, Cape Coral
“Amazing Reactions in Science”
Fully Funded!

Mrs. B. at Eneida Massas Hartner Elementary School, Miami
“Enhancing Our Science Classroom”
Still needs $178

Ms. Downing at Seminole High School, Sanford
“Building Bonds”
Still needs $151

Mr. Christmas at Pinetta Elementary School, Pinetta
“DASH and Doodle”
Still needs $165, but Craig Newmark Philanthropies is matching donations, so the amount needed now is only $83

Go to our Florida Citizens for Science Giving Page at Donors Choose to pitch in.

Let’s make these projects reality! And remember, we here at Florida Citizens for Science will give $500 at the close of the campaign to any projects not fully funded at that point or to new projects if the ones on our Giving Page are already funded by then. Can we raise more than our previous four campaigns?

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Help us supply Florida classrooms with needed science materials

I wrapped up an awesome first week of school with my high school freshman environmental science honors classes. My students explored my room to learn about me and my class. We learned how human perception is easily fooled by optical illusions, investigated the amazing color changing card trick, and experienced our brains jumping to conclusions. Since my classroom rules all center on the word “respect,” students worked together to develop their own working definition of the word. And we prepared our Interactive Science Notebooks for a year full of environmental science investigations.

I supplied the 140+ composition science notebooks for my students because I want them all to be the same type (college ruled, 200 pages) and want them assembled and ready to go this week without waiting for students to bring in their own. I was able to pull this off because of a generous donation from a local business, Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe. But not every teacher can be that lucky, as this story makes clear: These Teachers Find Creative Ways to Economize on School Supplies. (You’ll see a familiar name in that story!) So, let’s help out some Florida teachers who really want to bring science alive for their students but lack the funds to fulfill their education dreams.

It’s time for the launch of the 5th Annual Florida Citizens for Science Fundraising Campaign!

One of our energetic and highly motivated members — Albert Melcolm, a student at Florida State College, Jacksonville — did the hard work of combing through the many projects on the Donors Choose website to select four dedicated teachers who requested science materials for their classrooms. Here’s a little bit about each:

Mrs. Wieman Starling at Mariner Middle School, Cape Coral
“Amazing Reactions in Science”

Many students struggle to comprehend the differences between chemical and physical properties, and how to recognize them. Without that knowledge, understanding all other concepts connected to matter can feel impossible, especially for my students with special needs. These kits will provide my students a hands-on opportunity to see and experiment with various elements and chemicals to experience the differences themselves. The students will work in small groups to design their own inquiry project using the supplies. After testing its complete, they will analyze their findings and present them to the class. Once this project is completed, we will build on their new knowledge to understand matter and its place in the natural world.

Mrs. B. at Eneida Massas Hartner Elementary School, Miami
“Enhancing Our Science Classroom”

When it comes to science, it is different than any other subject. In science, you get to learn by exploring nature, doing science labs, and experimenting with many different things. Being able to explore in these ways requires the right equipment. Trying to do science labs and experiments on a traditional desk are somewhat difficult because of the size of the desk and the possibility of the desk separating and materials falling. If my students were able to have tables instead of a desk, they would be able to explore science comfortably with the much-needed space that tables give. The tables would also make our classroom look and feel like a real science classroom.

Ms. Downing at Seminole High School, Sanford
“Building Bonds”

Modeling kits are essential. Whether aiding the kinesthetic learner or contributing to learning as a visual aid, models demonstrate the otherwise intangible to the students. By using models, such as the requested Biochemistry Student Sets, students will have an opportunity to create a 3-Dimensional replication of atoms and molecules. They will be able to simulate bonding structures. Having these opportunities will allow students to explore a microscopic world to see how atoms form elements that create the molecules that make up the world in which we live in. My students would sincerely appreciate the chance to have the opportunity to have access to modeling kits to further investigate chemical principles.

Mr. Christmas at Pinetta Elementary School, Pinetta
“DASH and Doodle”

Students will gain coding experience using the DASH robot and accessories, and gain valuable STEM experiences using the Wonder Workshop Sketch Kit helps to express their creativity & develop critical thinking skills as they draw shapes, patterns, words, & more. STEM and CODING experience will play a vital role in the lives of today’s young students. The items purchased through this project will help to inspire the young GIRLS and BOYS I teach to enter the vital STEM fields of the future. For many of my students, this will be their first exposure to this type of technology. Please help me bring this exciting experience to the lives of the children in my class.

How you can help

Would you like to help out these teachers and students? Go to our Giving Page and make a donation to the project of your choice. We’re going to run this campaign for a full month, until September 18. When the campaign is over, Florida Citizens for Science will match total donations up to $500! And if all four projects are funded before our deadline, we’ll add more!

We hope to keep our trend of increasing donations year to year. Our first campaign raised $1,507 and last year we generated $2,943. Can we top that?

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Voter Guides II: “Both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution should be taught.”

A couple of conservative organizations recently released a new batch of voter guides for school board races in Indian River, Lee and Clay counties. In a previous post I highlighted voter guides for Lake, Marion and St. Lucie counties.

The Indian River County voter guide, issued by the group Florida Votes Values, doesn’t mention anything directly related to evolution. But the Lee County one does include this statement, which candidates are asked whether they support or oppose:

Amend DOE Curriculum Framework for Biology and Life Science to allow the teaching of life by intelligent design.

Five candidates “failed to respond,” one candidate is undecided, and one candidate supports that statement.

The Clay Family Policy Forum released a voter guide for Clay County. It includes the following statements, which candidates are asked whether they support or oppose:

Florida Statute FS 1006.31 mandates that all instructional materials adopted by school boards in the state be “accurate, objective, balanced and non-inflammatory”. New science textbooks adopted in February 2018 by a 3-2 vote of the Clay County School Board teach evolution exclusively

Both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution should be taught.

Evolution only should be taught.

Interestingly, not a single candidate stood up for evolution education, with some possibly going with the undecided or “chose not to respond” options instead.

Keep in mind that earlier this year, when the Clay County school board considered adopting new science textbooks, they engaged in lively debates about evolution in the classroom. Once board member said:

But my difficulty lies in the narrow scope as it relates to the theory of human and species origin in that the only theory mentioned is evolution. And all that is expected for students to know is its supporting evidence and none of its flaws. At best, this limited level of exposure for students to the highly contested views on the origin of life and species is negligent. At the worst it’s intellectually deceptive.

And the district superintendent 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.”

Read these blog posts for the full story:

I’ve encountered many people who don’t believe evolution education in schools is still an issue. They’re shocked when I inform them about all of the troubles we’ve had concerning this issue right here in Florida, right now in 2018. That’s why I write posts like this one. Everyone needs to know that there are citizen groups and candidates for office and actively serving politicians who certainly do think evolution education in our schools is a serious problem. They vote. They make important decisions. They pass laws. It’s the people who don’t think that it’s an issue who are allowing the vocal minority to undermine quality science education.

So, what I’m saying is: you can help support quality science education by simply casting an informed vote and educating others about the issues. Share this post widely.

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Voter Guides: Florida candidates asked about intelligent design

In an earlier post I asked you to be on the lookout for any local voting guides that include questions for candidates about science education. We now know the conservative organization Florida Votes Values started rolling out their surveys with ones for Lake, Marion and St. Lucie Counties, and they’ve promised more are on the way.

Among the topics candidates are asked to support or oppose are:

  • Amend DOE Curriculum Framework for Biology and Life Science to allow the teaching of life by intelligent design.
  • Allowing parents the right to withdraw their children from classes teaching material contrary to their moral values.
  • Stressing basic academic skills (i.e. reading, writing, mathematics) over social programs (i.e. social engineering, political advocacy on specific issues, organizing political protests, etc.)

Specifically mentioning intelligent design, which was found to be a religious view and not science during the 2005 Pennsylvania Federal District Court case Kitzmiller v. Dover, seems like a very dumb move here. It looks like the statement was simply copied from previous years’ surveys. That’s OK. It helps us establish a paper trail in the event someone does get elected and tries to stir up trouble of this nature.

Meanwhile, the folks at the Florida Citizens’ Alliance have partnered with the Christian Family Coalition Florida to produce voter guides. However, no science related topics are included on the surveys released so far. Interesting.

Please be on the lookout for other voting guides and let us know if you find any!

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