Florida Citizens for Science News Release

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?

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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

9 Responses to “Florida Citizens for Science News Release”

  1. Ivorygirl Says:

    Great release Brandon and one I fully support.

  2. Physicsteacher Says:

    I agree with Ivorygirl. It is a great release, but I did notice something in need of correction.

    While some, especially in Florida, take to protection of their gun rights with religious fervor, the Establishment Clause is in the 1st Amendment, rather than the 2nd. 😉

  3. Chris Says:

    This is my favorite, “Currently, Florida parents unhappy with instructional materials are entitled to complain to their local school board, whose decision is final.” Good luck with that.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-02-25/caught-tape-florida-parents-treated-children-questioning-school-curriculum

  4. Brandon Haught Says:

    Dadgummit! Thanks for pointing that out, Physicsteacher. Now corrected.

  5. Sorry from Collier Says:

    Chris, that video actually just pieces together clips from an orchestrated attempt to challenge the School Board’s civility policy, which then stated that commenters could not address specific Board members directly. That policy has since been amended; now people can say whatever they want to whomever they want. My point: this video has nothing to do with curriculum challenges, as anyone with a challenge can follow the formal process.

  6. Chris Says:

    Good for Collier County. Parents should be allowed to let their concerns be know about whatever or whoever is involved.

    The letter to the editor did give the impression the issue was about factual inaccuracies in the curriculum. There are a lot of parents who see the dumbing down of public education as a real problem and they won’t go away without kicking and screaming. Something to look forward too.

    If the individual being named in the video was the one who called the concerned parents “narrow-minded, racist Bible-thumpers” I would say the parents handled themselves very well regardless of any formal process, spit balls would have been appropriate.

  7. Sorry from Collier Says:

    Chris, the man from Collier who drafted this bill is on record saying, “…I don’t create a carbon footprint; I’m a human being.” A colleague of his has formally objected to the teaching of literature by Native Americans, African Americans, and other minority groups, because it’s “victim” literature. The whole group opposes teaching anything historical that takes a more critical view of American history. Given their support for this bill, no doubt they think it will help them whitewash literature and history, and turn science into a two-sided debate.

    Also, the comment you cite above was said by a commenter at that meeting, not a Board member.

  8. Chris Says:

    Sorry, there is a lot of anti-American garbage being dumped into the minds of students through Common Core and it’s supporters.  These two bills appear to be a reaction to the onslaught underway to destroy American values, freedoms and sovereignty through it’s coming generations. By using the proven method of coercive persuasion and systematic brainwashing you can produce suicide bombers, Hitler’s youth. or maybe Obama’s youth.

    Globalist ideology and big money will no doubt steal the stage for now. Common sense is being replaced with common core.

    Without being at the meeting it’s hard to determine if the speakers you mentioned were on or off track.

  9. Sorry from Collier Says:

    Ha, Chris Q! Okay, I see now. And with that realization, I will stop trying to engage you.