Yet another piece siding with the bad bills appears

February 4th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

You’ve got to hand it to the gang supporting those horrible instructional materials bills. They have influential friends and they’re not afraid to use them. Flagler School Board member Janet McDonald wrote a lengthy Community Voices piece in the Daytona Beach News Journal: Give parents curriculum tools. Of course, it touts all the supposed merits of the bills and moans over their mistreatment in Tallahassee.

The implementation of this law has been met with resistance in some districts, especially when community members choose to voice positions on materials in use. Across the state, parents and community members have identified inappropriate instructional materials relative to age and content, religious or political indoctrination, revisionist history, or pornography appearing in materials chosen from state-suggested lists (links to examples available on www.floridacitizensalliance.com/liberty).

I’ve written a rebuttal this evening and shipped it to the newspaper. I’ll let you know if it’s picked up. This is right here in my backyard!

A columnist in their corner

February 2nd, 2016 by Brandon Haught

The group behind the two very bad “instructional materials” bills currently languishing in the state legislature apparently has a newspaper columnist in their corner. I don’t believe I’ve read Brent Batten’s work before in the Naple Daily News but I’m told that he’s a conservative. As such, Batten has written an article about how the bills are stalled. He goes on at length about the alleged benefits of the bills. And he barely mentions one single objection (out of the many we in opposition have) while quickly dismissing it.

Have a look at the heavily one-sided piece here: No guarantee of book bill’s passage. There is a comments feature on the column but you have to sign up to leave one, I believe.

They’re not dead yet & Getting the word out there

February 1st, 2016 by Brandon Haught

In my previous post I said that the “instructional materials” bills in the state legislature don’t look like they’re going anywhere. But I also said that they can’t be considered dead yet. I was right: ‘No bill is dead’ in Florida Senate Education, chairman says.

Chairman John Legg told the Gradebook the bills still have a chance to move.

“We are in Week 4 of session. No bill is dead,” Legg said, noting his committee is likely to meet at least twice more.

Florida Citizens for Science gets a brief mention:

He said the instructional materials bill by Sen. Alan Hays is very complicated, with many details that could affect school and district decisions. Florida Citizens Alliance wants to see “revisionist history” removed from materials, for instance, while Florida Citizens for Science has battled the proposals as an effort to put creationism into science textbooks.

But even if the bills finally appear on the committees’ schedules, there are a few more committee stops they have to make before they can be presented to the full House and Senate.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Smith, Florida Citizens for Science president, is not standing idly by. He has a letter in the Lakeland Ledger voicing our opposition to the bills. I’ll reproduce it in full here:

As a taxpayer, would you like to see your own school district throw away millions of dollars and countless hours of media attention, just to appease ideologically driven special interest groups?

Disguised by the smoke and mirrors diatribe of the “local control” mantra, Sen. Alan Hays’ bill (SB 1018 and the companion bill HB 899) would open the doors to endless and expensive headaches over what kinds of textbooks and other materials should be used in Florida’s classrooms.

The language in Hays’ bill seems innocent and full of taxpayer empowerment.

For example, parents can currently complain to the local school board if there’s anything objectionable in a textbook. But the bill, if passed into law, would give any taxpayer the additional superpower of taking the complaint to court if he or she didn’t get what they wanted out of the school board. Hays might as well call this bill the “2016 Trial Lawyers Employment Act.”

The bill would require instructional materials to “provide a non inflammatory, objective and balanced viewpoint on all issues,” which sounds great.

However, the reality is that some people will view biological evolution, which is accepted solid science, as inflammatory, when presented “unbalanced” by other non-science alternatives in the textbooks.

One of the main organizations who helped write and promote these bills – Florida Citizens Alliance – has already gone on record saying as much. They are also opposed to students learning about climate change.

Perhaps another appropriate name for Hay’s bill would be the “Special Interest Entitlement Act.”

I’m sure creationists and global-warming deniers will rejoice!

Jonathan P. Smith
President
Florida Citizens for Science
Lithia

not dead

Good news from Tallahassee

January 30th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Good news: it looks like the horrible instructional materials bills filed in the state legislature are stuck in the mud. Insiders who are much more knowledgeable about the inner workings of Tallahassee told me that the bills have several committees to get through. Because they have yet to be put on the meeting schedule in any of them this late in the session, the bills’ chances of passage are slim.

And another good sign is that the bills’ main supporter, Florida Citizens Alliance, has angrily reported that the bills are being blocked.

However, victory can’t be declared until the session is over. There are plenty of sneaky tactics for resurrecting dead bills, such as adding them to other successful bills as amendments.

A little press about “instructional materials” bills

January 25th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

An Orlando Sentinel columnist takes apart several bills that Sen. Alan Hays has filed this year in the state legislature: Hays files wild bills in Senate. His bill about school instructional materials, which Florida Citizens for Science opposes, gets a mention:

Hays wants parents to be able to inspect all “instructional materials” and to opt their children out of any they don’t happen to like. Talk about a recipe for chaos. The bill also would require districts to adopt “non-inflammatory” books and materials. What does that even mean? The bill is unneeded because the state already has a solution for this problem. It is called home schooling.

On the flip side is a letter to the editor from one of the main authors and supporters of Hays’ bill, Keith Flaugh. Part of his letter says:

Today, materials are laced with revisionist history, religious and political indoctrination, pornography and even math methodologies that boggle common sense.

Parents and grandparents from 11 counties recently went to Tallahassee to urge support for these cleanup bills. We found overwhelming support for “local curriculum control” and repulsion to the age-inappropriate, factually distorted materials being subjected upon our children.

For Florida Citizens for Science’s take on this bill, click on the category in the right column labeled “Instructional Materials bills ’16.”

Celebrating a decade of promoting and defending science education!

January 23rd, 2016 by Brandon Haught

10-Year-AnniversaryWay back in 2006 Florida Citizens for Science members held their first official meeting, kicking off what would become an exciting, action-packed decade of promoting and defending science education in the Sunshine State. We’ve been in the middle of many battles, big and small, usually because the integrity of evolution instruction was under fire. You can relive some of those experiences by perusing this blog’s archives as well as catching the highlights on our Projects and Events page.

Today Florida Citizens for Science board members gathered for our annual meeting and included in our packed agenda a celebration of our tenth birthday. There was delicious cake and cookies! The meeting then turned to the business of troublesome bills currently filed in the Florida legislature and the release of a new set of state science standards that we anticipate will happen later this year. We’re activating our network of partners so that together we can stave off the mischief that’s sure to come. If you want to help out, please let us know. The help is always welcome!

Here is a picture of the attending board members after today’s meeting. Congratulations to all of our new and longtime members on ten years of friendship and success. Let’s keep up the great work!

fcs 012316sm

Pictured from left to right are Florida Citizens for Science board members Henry Neufeld, David Campbell (secretary), Mary Bahr, Pete Dunkelberg, Joe Wolf (vice president), Pierce Butler, Wesley Elsberry, Brandon Haught (treasurer) and Marta Robertson. Also present but not pictured because he had to leave a bit early was Jonathan Smith (president).

Update on instructional materials bills

January 18th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Two companion bills have been filed in the Florida Senate and House that have a lot of potential for disrupting education in Florida schools. These instructional materials bills have more than one focus, but the one most concerning to us at Florida Citizens for Science is the back door it opens for inserting creationism in science classes. Please see our previous posts on this issue: Time to talk about textbooksTracking Textbook billsNCSE takes note of Sunshine State billsNational Coalition Against Censorship takes an interestYet more examples of what we’re up against, and Florida Citizens for Science News Release.

TextbooksSo far, the bills have been assigned to committees for hearings and votes, but the bills have not been put on any committee’s calendar yet. However, groups that support the bills haven’t been idle. They visited Tallahassee in person last week and spoke with several lawmakers in person. They also distributed materials to all of the lawmakers. This work has resulted in more than a dozen lawmakers adding themselves as co-sponsors of the House bill, giving it support.

We know that Florida Citizens for Science members and friends are strong advocates for science education. Now is the time to put action to your words. Use the information in our press release to write to and talk with lawmakers. Write newspaper op-eds and letters to the editor. Contact us to volunteer your services in whatever capacity you are able. It’s time to get to work.

Florida Citizens for Science News Release

January 11th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

News Release
Lawmakers’ Instructional Materials Proposal: Costly Headache for School Boards

Jan 11, 2016
Florida Citizens for Science

Florida Citizens for Science opposes companion bills filed in the Florida House and Senate, HB899 and SB1018, both entitled “Instructional Materials for K-12 Public Education.” We assert that these bills are in conflict with Article IX of the Florida Constitution that requires “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” These bills would allow those with no relevant qualifications to change local school districts’ curricula based on personal beliefs and ideology, in opposition to the concepts of “uniform” and “high quality.” The bills would also clash with “efficient … public schools” by potentially subjecting school districts to damaging, lengthy and costly court challenges. Furthermore, taxpayers currently have avenues available for their voices to be heard when it comes to instructional materials. In a misguided attempt to give citizens more power, the bills erode the authority and efficiency of education experts who are trained and experienced at evaluating and selecting appropriate instructional materials as well as subject area content experts who ensure the materials’ accuracy.

Florida Citizens for Science has the following specific concerns about HB899 and SB1018:

Costly Court Challenges
These bills can expose school districts to costly and time-consuming litigation. The terms “inflammatory” and “controversial” contained in the bills are ill-defined and subject to interpretation, allowing anyone to challenge instructional materials with the claim that they’re inflammatory or controversial to Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, Satanists or any special interest group. This is not an idle point. Consider how a Satanist group successfully lobbied for a holiday display in the Florida Capitol.(1) School boards will risk frivolous legal action every time they turn down a complaint, leaving them exposed to potential damages, injunctive relief, attorney fees and court costs. Furthermore, school districts who willingly submit to challenges from creationists concerning how evolution and related topics are presented in instructional materials will certainly face immediate court challenges that could cost the district a million dollars or more.(2) For the school boards, this legislation creates a minefield of no-win scenarios.

Unqualified vs. Experts
These bills are akin to legalized extortion: any individual muckraker can object to instructional materials and have their protest treated as a show-stopper. Currently, Florida parents unhappy with instructional materials are entitled to complain to their local school board, whose decision is final. These bills extend standing to challenge from parents to any taxpayer. These bills also give additional weight in reviewing instructional materials to unqualified taxpayers, which dilutes and devalues the input of qualified experts.

Targeting Science
These bills would empower taxpayers to object to the use of specific instructional materials in the public schools, for example on the grounds that they fail to provide “a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues.” As it applies to Florida Citizens for Science’s field of expertise, science education, we have noted that the organizations with whom these bills originated have documented their complaints against established factual science. They wish to balance scientific evidence for evolutionary biology with blatantly religious creation stories.(3) If acted upon by any school district, this would be a clear violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment to the Constitution as repeatedly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Better” Standards?
Currently, instructional materials used in Florida’s schools must be consistent with the state science standards. The bills state that instructional materials may alternatively be consistent with “standards that are equivalent to or better than the applicable state standards.” No criteria for assessing the relative quality of standards are provided. Who will determine if a set of presented standards are “better” than the current standards? Furthermore, a revised set of state science standards are due to be completed later this year after two years of hard work. These bills could make the new standards, forged by subject matter experts, irrelevant. Why have expertly crafted state standards if any unqualified person can claim that some other un-vetted set of standards is equivalent or better?

# # #

Notes:
1. “Satanic Temple display comes to Florida Capitol,” Tallahassee Democrat, Dec 22, 2014:
http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2014/12/22/satanic-temple-display-comes-florida-capitol/20764841/

2. In the federal court case Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, the school board had inserted an alternative to evolution in the curriculum, was challenged in court, and lost. The small school district had to pay legal fees in excess of $1 million. See: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.html

3. See National Center for Science Education: http://ncse.com/news/2015/12/antiscience-bills-florida-0016838 and Florida Citizens for Science: http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=2378
Contacts:
• Brandon Haught, Florida Citizens for Science Communications Director and author of Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom: bhaught@flascience.org.
• Jonathan Smith, Florida Citizens for Science President: cyjonolds@aol.com.
Florida Citizens for Science is a statewide organization formed in 2005 with the goal of promoting and defending sound science education in Florida: www.flascience.org