The St. Petersburg Times education blog The Gradebook asked the folks at Florida Virtual School about the issue of students using the online school to opt out of course material they or their families don’t like. Unfortunately, I’m still just a bit confused. The blog posts says:
In response to Monday’s Gradebook post, the Florida Virtual School just issued a statement saying its teachers do not allow FVS students to opt out of lessons in which they disagree – in this case, one involving evolution.
That sounds fine. But then the post goes on to include a direct quote from FVS Chief Learning Officer Pam Birtolo:
“Just as they can in traditional public schools, parents have the right to request that their child be allowed to opt-out of lessons with which they disagree.”
That’s odd. Birtolo then goes on to say in the quoted statement:
“We do not modify our course content or the relevant tests based upon requests by parents or students. When these special circumstances arise, parents are notified that their child will receive a zero for the missed lessons.”
So, I don’t understand. Parents can ask to opt-out, but the school does not modify course content based on those requests. Something doesn’t compute for me here.
It also needs to be pointed out that parents actually do not have the right to request an opt-out for anything and everything. Florida Statutes allow for only two opt-outs in science courses:
Any student whose parent makes written request to the school principal shall be exempted from the teaching of reproductive health or any disease, including HIV/AIDS, its symptoms, development, and treatment.
No surgery or dissection shall be performed on any living mammalian vertebrate or bird. Dissection may be performed on nonliving mammals or birds secured from a recognized source of such specimens and under supervision of qualified instructors. Students may be excused upon written request of a parent.
Apparently, the FVS student in this specific case did the assignment, so the whole issue of opt-out in this instance is moot. But we here at Florida Citizens for Science have been hearing about schools throughout the state dealing with opt-out requests concerning the teaching of evolution. One such case is here. The bottom line is that there are no legally recognized justifications for allowing evolution lesson opt-outs.