Textbook Challenges Bill 2018

Florida House Bill 827 (Instructional Materials), filed in November by Rep. Byron Donalds in preparation for the 2018 state legislative session proposes changes to several of our laws that govern the review and selection of instructional materials used in our public schools. It didn’t have a Senate companion bill for more than a month, but then on Jan. 5, Florida Senate Bill 1644 (Instructional Materials) was filed by Senator Tom Lee.

Overview:

Florida’s House Bill 827 and Senate Bill 1644 would, if enacted, revise the procedures for adopting instructional materials to permit members of the public to recommend instructional materials for consideration by the state or their district school board, which would then be required to get in touch with the publisher of those materials and allow it to submit a bid for evaluation. The bills also propose multiple opportunities for the public to have access to instructional materials under review and to submit comments about them.

House Bill 827: Instructional Materials

Link to bill here. Introduced by: Rep. Byron Donalds.

On Dec. 8 the bill was referred to three committees: PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee, PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, and Education Committee. On Jan. 10 the bill was approved by the  PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee with only one member dissenting.

Senate Bill 1644: Instructional Materials

Link to bill here. Introduced by: Sen. Tom Lee.

The bill has not been referred to any committees at this time.

What follows is a quick analysis of these bills from a science education perspective. Educators with a focus on other academic subjects may have their own take on these bills, but lacking their expertise, I’ll stick with science. Additionally, we know that the Florida Citizens’ Alliance is a big supporter and possible originator of these instructional materials bills, just as the group was for the instructional materials bill that became law last year. We know that the Alliance’s leaders are creationists and climate change deniers, as demonstrated by their published textbook reviews and statements to the media. That needs to be kept in mind when analyzing these bills, which is why I frequently bring up creationism and climate change denial throughout. And the lawmakers who filed the bills this year were the sponsors of last year’s successful bills, so I am confident that both Donalds and Lee are working closely with the Alliance again this year.

Bills’ proposed changes to Florida statute 1006.283 — District school board instructional materials review process.

House Bill 827, Lines 109-116:

(District school boards must …) Establish the process by which parents and residents of the county, as defined in s. 1006.28(1)(b), can recommend instructional materials for consideration by district instructional materials reviewers. The district school board shall contact the publisher of any instructional material recommended for consideration and provide the publisher with the opportunity to submit a bid for evaluation in accordance with this section.

Senate Bill 1644, Lines 101-108:

(District school boards must …) Establish the process by which parents and residents of the county, as defined in s. 1006.28(1)(b), may recommend instructional materials for consideration by district instructional materials reviewers. The district school board must notify the publisher of any instructional material that is recommended for consideration and provide the publisher with the Florida Instructional Materials Adoption Schedule for the current adoption cycle.

What in the world is the purpose of this? I can easily envision this being used to force a school board to solicit bids from creationist and climate change denier publishers. And note the difference in wording between the second line of each version.

Bill’s proposed changes to Florida statute 1006.30 Affidavit of state instructional materials reviewers.

House Bill 827, Lines 123 to 127:

(… each state instructional materials reviewer shall make an affidavit, to be filed with the department, that:) To the best of the reviewer’s knowledge, any instructional materials recommended for adoption are, at a minimum, aligned to the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards under s. 1003.41 and meet all of the requirements under ss. 1006.31(2) and 1006.34(2)(c).

FYI, one of those listed statutes, ss. 1006.31(2), in part, states: “Instructional materials recommended by each reviewer shall be, to the satisfaction of each reviewer, accurate, objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current, free of pornography and material prohibited under s. 847.012, and suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.”

The desire here is to claim science books that contain evolution and climate change are not “objective, balanced, noninflammatory”. The Senate Bill does not propose any changes to statute 1006.30.

Bills’ proposed changes to Florida statute 1006.31 — Duties of the Department of Education and school district instructional materials reviewer.

Now that statute 1006.31(2) has been referenced, the bill then goes on to make a change to that statute:

House Bill 827, Lines 136 to 140:

… recommend for adoption only those instructional materials that are, at a minimum, aligned with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards provided for in s. 1003.41. However, such instructional materials may be more rigorous than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

This is meant to dovetail with SB 966 and HB 825 currently under consideration. In other words, the lawmakers responsible for the textbooks and “controversial theories” bills are all working together to some degree and working with the Florida Citizens’ Alliance to some degree. It’s a team effort. The Senate Bill does not include this proposed change.

House Bill 827, Lines 172 to 185

PUBLIC ACCESS AND INPUT.—Members of the public must be provided access to, and the opportunity to submit comments on, instructional materials recommended for adoption by state instructional materials reviewers. Any submitted comment related to a specific recommended instructional material must be provided to the State Board of Education as part of its consideration of the instructional material pursuant to s. 1006.34(2)(a). Members of the public must also be permitted to recommend instructional materials for consideration by state instructional materials reviewers. The Department of Education shall contact the publisher of any instructional material recommended for consideration and provide the publisher with the opportunity to submit a bid for evaluation in accordance with this section and s. 1006.34.

Senate Bill 1644, Lines 150 to 166

PUBLIC ACCESS AND INPUT.—Members of the public must be provided access to, and be given an opportunity to submit comments on, instructional materials recommended for adoption by state instructional materials reviewers. Any submitted comment related to a specific recommended instructional material must be provided to the commissioner as part of his or her consideration of the instructional material pursuant to s. 1006.34(2)(a). Any virtual presentation provided by a bidding instructional material publisher or manufacturer must be posted on the department’s website for public access until the adoption period closes. Members of the public must also be allowed to recommend any instructional material for consideration by state instructional materials reviewers. The Department of Education must notify the publisher of any instructional material that is recommended for consideration and provide the publisher with the Florida Instructional Materials Adoption Schedule for the current adoption cycle.

Here is an attempt to add to statute 1006.31 a stronger voice for citizens and force the DoE to solicit bids for citizen-recommended materials, such as, perhaps, ones that include creationist or climate change denial. And note the differences in wording between the two versions.

Bills’ proposed changes to Florida Statute 1006.34 — Powers and duties of the commissioner, and the department, and State Board of Education in selecting and adopting instructional materials.

One change is to the title of this statute adding the “State Board of Education.”

House Bill 827, Lines 219 to 224:

The state board must adopt instructional materials at a regularly scheduled meeting no later than July 1 of the year before the adoption period is scheduled to begin pursuant to s. 1006.36. The state board shall allow public comment on instructional materials at any meeting in which an adoption is considered.

The purpose here is to provide yet another opportunity for citizens to have their say. I’m not sure if setting a specific date for adoptions is a good thing or a bad thing. The Senate Bill does not include this proposed change.

House Bill 827, Lines 248 to 257:

Instructional materials are not subject to public review procedures under s. 1006.40(4)(b) if the materials are found by the State Board of Education to fully meet or be more rigorous than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards under s. 1003.41 and comply with the adoption criteria and standards of s. 1006.31(2) and paragraph (c). However, a district school board member may initiate the public review procedures before the instructional materials are adopted by the state board if he or she has evidence that the instructional materials do not meet the criteria and standards provided in this paragraph.

Senate Bill 1644, Lines 174-184:

Instructional materials are not subject to public review procedures under s. 1006.40(4)(b) if the materials are found by the commissioner to fully meet or be more rigorous than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards under s. 1003.41 and are found to comply with the adoption criteria and standards of paragraph (c) and s. 1003.42 and are not prohibited by ss. 847.012 and 1002.206. However, a district school board member may initiate the public review procedures before the instructional materials are adopted by the commissioner if he or she has evidence that the instructional materials do not meet the criteria required by this paragraph.

In other words, if the creationists can’t stop a book at the state level, here’s a chance for an ally on a school board to claim a book is not “objective, balanced, noninflammatory”.

Bill’s proposed changes to Florida Statute 1006.40 Use of instructional materials allocation; instructional materials, library books, and reference books; repair of books.

House Bill 827, Lines 326 to 332:

… each district school board shall use the annual allocation only for the purchase of instructional materials that align with state standards, and are included on the state-adopted list, except as otherwise authorized in paragraphs (b) and (c), and include professional development and supplemental materials to support high-quality accurate instruction.

Could this be used to introduce anti-science supplementary materials? The Senate Bill does not include this proposed change.

Other voices:

The National Center for Science Education notes:

The sole sponsor of HB 827, Byron Donalds (R-District 80), was the main sponsor of HB 989 in 2017, which, as NCSE previously reported, was intended to make it easier for creationists and climate change deniers to pester their local school districts. Supporters of the bill complained, “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as fact … rather than theory … I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.”

HB 989 was passed and enacted in 2017. According to the Associated Press (November 18, 2017), there have already been at least seven complaints filed, including a complaint in Brevard County that elementary school social studies textbooks are engaged in “blatant indoctrination” by asserting that global warming is caused by human activity, and a complaint in Nassau County challenging the teaching of evolution there.

The chief of legal services for the Nassau County School District told the Sentinel that the passage of HB 827 could be burdensome for districts, adding, “It’s troubling to me, for example, the notion that we’re going to throw out to the general public … this option of challenging books. … What expertise do I have to challenge some high school calculus book? … Don’t we have experts?”

Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell wrote a piece about the new instructional materials law we have in Florida as well as the prefiled bill that’s waiting for the next legislative session: Book-banning — a crusade for Florida’s simplest minds.

And now, a new bill would allow activists to suggest new books students read instead — and require school boards to solicit bids for the book, no matter how nutty it is.

You want kids to read a book about why the earth is flat? Or how to plan a school shooting? It doesn’t matter. Under this new bill, any request would require districts to solicit bids.

[…]

Schools used to be meant for education. Now, they are battlefields for political gamesmanship. Children are merely the pawns.

It started last year when Republican legislators, with help from some Democrats, wanted to embolden the book-banning set.

Responding to the anti-evolution crowd, they passed a law making it easier for citizens — even those who don’t even have children in public schools — to challenge books they find offensive.

[…]

And once again, even though [Naples Republican Byron] Donalds said his bill was designed to empower taxpayers who fund schools, his bill wouldn’t allow the same book-meddling at taxpayer-funded voucher schools.

His resume, by the way, lists him as “a founding board member” of a charter school in Naples.

What you can do:

The legislative session officially starts Jan. 8. You need to contact your local lawmakers before then, preferably in person if possible. And continue applying pressure throughout the session through phone calls and emails. Spread the word to friends, family, and associates through social media and word of mouth. Encourage others to contact lawmakers. Write letters to the editor or op-eds for your local newspaper.

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