The benign steamroller

April 6th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

steamrollerThe nightmare is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality. Today the Florida House Education committee considered an Instructional Materials bill that will force school districts across the state to take seriously creationist and climate change denier complaints about textbooks. School districts will be required to appoint “unbiased and qualified hearing officers” when any county resident, not just parents, protests about what’s in any instructional material.

The founders and promoters of this bill have given us mountains of evidence showing how they will use and abuse this bill should it become law. They want some form of creationism taught alongside evolution. They want references to human-caused climate change erased.

And yet the bill passed through the Education Committee on a 16-2 vote. And it happened with no debate and no substantial public comment during the meeting. I want to repeat that to make my point clear. There was no debate. There were no questions.

One issue that we’re realizing is that many lawmakers honestly believe the bill is harmless. One of our Florida Citizens for Science members had emailed a representative to warn about the bill’s dangers and got a reply:

Initially i had serious concerns about the concept of this bill. After hearing it in committee i learned how benign the bill is. So my question to you is, which part of the bill is dangerous?

We’re not getting our message through. It’s clear that none of the legislators have any idea where the bill originated, what the motivations behind it are, and what the consequences will be. During the email conversation, the representative went on to incorrectly claim that the state Department of Education makes the final decision about what what is adopted for use in classrooms. In other words, he doesn’t understand that local school districts make the final decisions concerning what goes into the classrooms and he further doesn’t understand that this bill will force those school districts to take seriously any county resident on an ideological crusade against those materials.

The lowest bar we can possibly set as we fight these bills is to have our valid and evidence-based arguments heard and acknowledged. So far, we’re failing to accomplish even that modest goal. Will you help us?

The last chance we have to be heard is in the final committee stop either bill, in the House or Senate, will have. It will be the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill has not been scheduled for a meeting there yet. But that shouldn’t stop you from getting a head start on contacting the members. Tell them clearly and concisely that SB 1210 is NOT BENIGN. These talking points should help you, especially the links in the second point.

If our concerns aren’t at least brought up during that meeting, then we honestly have little chance of influencing this bill as it goes to the House and Senate floors for final votes.

If you have ever asked “what can I do to support science education,” this is your chance.

Call. Email. Visit. Repeat.

Who will defend Florida science education?

April 4th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

houseWe’re facing an uphill battle as we fight against the Instructional Materials bills in the Florida legislature. We know these bills, if they become law, will almost guarantee a future fight over evolution and climate change in our classroom textbooks. It’s not just conjecture. We have unambiguous evidence.

The House version sailed through its first two committee stops on 14 to 0 and 12 to 2 votes. It’s frustrating to watch this bill go largely unchallenged and to know our valid arguments are being ignored.

But now is not the time to give up. We need to get louder. And now is your chance.

The House Education committee, the last stop before the bill moves to the full House, is going to consider the bill Thursday at 8 a.m. Call the committee members. Email them. Visit them. Make sure they hear your opposition to this horrible bill. Let them know that:

Here’s the committee member list. How many of them will commit to supporting science education?

Bileca, Michael [R] michael.bileca@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5115
Cortes, Robert “Bob” [R] Bob.Cortes@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5030
Jones, Shevrin D. “Shev” [D] Shevrin.Jones@myfloridahouse.gov(850) 717-5101
Ahern, Larry [R] larry.ahern@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5066
Antone, Bruce [D] bruce.antone@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5046
Asencio, Robert [D] Robert.Asencio@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5118
Brown, Kamia L. [D] Kamia.Brown@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5045
Diaz, Jr., Manny [R] Manny.Diaz@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5103
Donalds, Byron [R] Byron.Donalds@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5080
Latvala, Chris [R] Chris.Latvala@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5067
Lee, Jr., Larry [D] Larry.Lee@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5084
Plasencia, Rene “Coach P” [R] Rene.Plasencia@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5050
Ponder, Mel [R] mel.ponder@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5004
Porter, Elizabeth W. [R] elizabeth.porter@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5010
Raburn, Jake [R] Jake.Raburn@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5057
Russell, Barrington A. “Barry” [D] Barrington.Russell@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5095
Stone, Charlie [R] Charlie.Stone@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5022
Sullivan, Jennifer Mae [R] Jennifer.Sullivan@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5031

Bad Instructional Materials bill keeps on moving

April 3rd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

houseToday the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee considered the Instructional Materials bill that we know will open the door to creationists and climate change deniers wanting to challenge how science is taught in Florida schools. The bill was approved on a 12 to 2 vote. It has one more committee stop to make in the House, which hasn’t been scheduled yet.

The bill was considered last in the nearly two hour meeting. That might have been a factor in the truly frustrating aspect of this vote: there was no debate. Only one citizen came forward to speak (she had some valid concerns about the timing of the challenge process and the qualifications of the unbiased hearing officer as currently described in the bill). After she finished, the committee chair opened the floor to any debate and there was none. Then the votes were cast.

We have some very serious and valid concerns about this bill and those concerns are being ignored. Coincidentally, there was a story published in today’s Florida Today: ‘Pro-Islam’ textbook stirs debate in Brevard — again.  It’s not related to science education, but all you have to do is replace ‘Pro-Islam’ with ‘Pro-Evolution’ and I think you can see why this story is deeply concerning, especially in light of this horrible Instructional Materials bill.

If you’re feeling as frustrated as I am, I implore you not to give up. Instead, get louder. It won’t hurt to start calling, emailing and visiting lawmakers now in the House Education Committee, which will be bill’s next stop. In the Senate, their version of the bill will be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee. That meeting has not been scheduled yet.

Don’t give up.

No lack of bad ideas …

April 2nd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

house

Just a reminder, folks. We could use your help burying a bad legislative idea.

The House version of the Instructional Materials bills that are very likely to be used and abused by anti-evolutionists and climate change deniers if they become law is scheduled for its second of three committee stops. HB 989 is on the calendar for tomorrow (Monday, April 3) at 11:30 in the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Daytona Beach News-Journal columnist Mark Lane agrees that this bill isn’t a good idea: At halfway point, no lack of bad ideas before Legislature.

Bad idea: Why not encourage litigation against school boards and county-by-county fights over school textbooks that teach evolution?

Collier County is having a school textbook and censorship fight. Some legislators want to bring that statewide by handing conservative activists new legal tools for challenging state-approved textbooks and assigned readings on the local level. Just what you want to see your school district spending time and money on.

Send emails to the committee members. Make phone calls. Show up at the meeting if you can. Keep your correspondence short and to the point. Make it clear you oppose the bill due to its potential negative impact on science education. Implore the lawmakers to do their homework by actually reading the supporting documents our opponents are giving them. Point out that those documents make it clear they are ready and eager to fight their local school boards over evolution and climate change. Explain that we want experienced experts determining what materials are used in the classroom, not amateurs on an ideological crusade. If you need ideas, read through the posts in the ‘Instructional Materials bills ’17’ blog category.

The last committee vote was unanimous in favor on the bill. We need to put the brakes on this bill and we need some of these lawmakers to speak up for science during the meeting.

And note that the bill’s House sponsor is Byron Donalds, who is also on this committee.

Committee members:

Diaz, Jr., Manny [R] Manny.Diaz@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5103
Raburn, Jake [R] Jake.Raburn@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5057
Lee, Jr., Larry [D] Larry.Lee@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5084
Antone, Bruce [D] bruce.antone@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5046
Brown, Kamia L. [D] Kamia.Brown@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5045
Donalds, Byron [R] Byron.Donalds@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5080
Fine, Randy [R] Randy.Fine@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5053
Fischer, Jason [R] Jason.Fischer@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5016
Hardemon, Roy [D] Roy.Hardemon@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5108
Latvala, Chris [R] Chris.Latvala@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5067
Massullo, MD, Ralph E. [R] Ralph.Massullo@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5034
McClain, Stan [R] Stan.McClain@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5023
Newton, Sr., Wengay M. “Newt” [D] Newt.Newton@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5070
Renner, Paul [R] Paul.Renner@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5024
Sullivan, Jennifer Mae [R] Jennifer.Sullivan@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5031

A Tale of Two Bills

March 31st, 2017 by Brandon Haught

houseThe Religious Expression in Public Schools bills, which invite conflicts between creationism and evolution in science classrooms (see our Religious Liberties Act 2017 blog category), are nearing the finish line in the Florida legislature. The Senate version won easy approval through the entire process and the House version passed through all of its committee stops without a hiccup. All that’s left for the House to do is cast the final vote for its version. But that’s the tricky part. The Senate and House have different versions. In order for the bill to be shipped to the governor, the bills have to be reconciled into one. The Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog outlines what’s happening now: Religious expression in Florida public schools: Which bill will survive?

Now both bills are before the House, in very different forms. To become law, of course, they’d have to be identical.

On Friday, Daniels moved to eliminate the differences — by filing an amendment to the Senate bill in which she’d replace it entirely with the House version. If that gets approved, the House would return the bill to the Senate, which could agree, amend the bill again, or simply let it die.

That next decision will be made in the House on Tuesday. It’s not too late to express your opinion to your representative. Who knows what will happen?

Get to work, folks!

March 30th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

houseThe House version of the Instructional Materials bills that are very likely to be used and abused by anti-evolutionists and climate change deniers if they become law is scheduled for its second of three committee stops. HB 989 is on the calendar for Monday, April 3 at 11:30 in the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Send emails to the committee members. Make phone calls. Show up at the meeting if you can. Keep your correspondence short and to the point. Make it clear you oppose the bill due to its potential negative impact on science education. Implore the lawmakers to do their homework by actually reading the supporting documents our opponents are giving them. Point out that those documents make it clear they are ready and eager to fight their local school boards over evolution and climate change. Explain that we want experienced experts determining what materials are used in the classroom, not amateurs on an ideological crusade. If you need ideas, read through the posts in the ‘Instructional Materials bills ’17’ blog category.

The last committee vote was unanimous in favor on the bill. We need to put the brakes on this bill and we need some of these lawmakers to speak up for science during the meeting.

And note that the bill’s House sponsor is Byron Donalds, who is also on this committee.

Committee members:

Diaz, Jr., Manny [R] Manny.Diaz@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5103
Raburn, Jake [R] Jake.Raburn@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5057
Lee, Jr., Larry [D] Larry.Lee@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5084
Antone, Bruce [D] bruce.antone@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5046
Brown, Kamia L. [D] Kamia.Brown@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5045
Donalds, Byron [R] Byron.Donalds@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5080
Fine, Randy [R] Randy.Fine@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5053
Fischer, Jason [R] Jason.Fischer@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5016
Hardemon, Roy [D] Roy.Hardemon@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5108
Latvala, Chris [R] Chris.Latvala@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5067
Massullo, MD, Ralph E. [R] Ralph.Massullo@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5034
McClain, Stan [R] Stan.McClain@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5023
Newton, Sr., Wengay M. “Newt” [D] Newt.Newton@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5070
Renner, Paul [R] Paul.Renner@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5024
Sullivan, Jennifer Mae [R] Jennifer.Sullivan@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5031

These dangerous bills need to be disarmed

March 29th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

An op-ed I wrote was published in today’s Daytona Beach News Journal: Bills threaten science education

Of concern to science advocates like us is the Collier group’s vociferous opposition to established, accurate science concepts. Among their targeted objectionable materials are lessons about evolution and climate change. The single most alarming statement from the bills’ supporters is this analysis of a textbook passage about evolution: “Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.” This week, the bill’s supporters offered affidavits from parents who said their complaints about textbooks were “ignored.” Among those affidavits, I found complaints about evolution and climate change.

Giving these grossly unscientific views a voice equal to education and science experts in the choosing of instructional materials is irresponsible and does a disservice to our children. Confusing and inaccurate science lessons based on bad instructional materials could discourage students from seeking out science careers or immediately put students academically behind their peers in college.

Please share widely. Our opposition is crowing about their success so far, saying: “Senators’ aides told us they were flooded with calls.” We can only counter that if you help us. Drown out their calls with ours. If you sit idly by, our schools and our students lose.

Quick Bills Updates

March 28th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Old_and_New_Florida_State_Capitol,_Tallahassee,_East_view_20160711_1This is a quick update on the Religious Liberties and Instructional Materials bills we’re watching in the Florida legislature.

Religious Liberties:

The bill successfully passed through all Senate committees and the full Senate approved it on a 23-13 vote.

The House version successfully passed through all committees and is awaiting its full House vote.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposes this bill: Fla. Legislators Push To Turn Public Schools Into Mission Fields.

Most troubling, these bills will harm students’ religious freedom. Both SB 436 and HB 303 would require teachers to permit religious expression in all school assignments without penalty, opening the door for students who so desire to use class time to proselytize and advance their own religious views on classmates. A student, for example, could use every assignment that includes a class presentation as an opportunity to convince any non-believers in the class that they need to accept Jesus to achieve salvation. Alternatively, students in science classes could try to turn every class discussion into a debate about evolution vs. creationism.

Instructional Materials:

The bill passed through one Senate committee and is waiting to be scheduled for its only other committee stop before the full Senate considers it.

The House version passed through one committee and is waiting to be scheduled for two other committee stops before the full House considers it.

The Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog briefly mentions our concerns about this bill and also shows we’re not the only folks opposed to the bill: Concern mounts over textbook, coding bills as they gain steam in Florida Legislature.

Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science posted on the group’s blog this indictment: “It’s unanimous … Florida lawmakers disregard danger to science education.”

He and others pointed to the affidavits submitted by bill supporters, in which they complain about such things as evolution being taught as fact rather than theory, and said the Legislature must beware the motivations.

And the National Center for Science Education is also keeping an eye on developments here: Antiscience bills progress in Florida.

Both bills were amended in committee before they passed, eliminating two worrisome provisions (involving eligibility to file a complaint and consistency of instructional materials with the state science standards).

But in a March 27, 2017, blog post, Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science emphasized that passage of the bills even as amended would threaten to inundate local school boards with scientifically unfounded attacks on climate change and evolution.

To demonstrate his point, Haught cited affidavits submitted in support of the bills that complained, e.g., “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact … rather than a theory … I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.”