New Legislation “Fixes” FL Textbook Law in Worst Ways Possible

March 6, 2019
By

Florida flagLast year, Florida signed HB 989 into law, legislation written by Florida Citizens Alliance that allows any county resident to lodge a challenge against textbooks or supplemental materials that they claim fail to present “a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues.” Their goal was to waste school districts time and energy, as well as curb the teaching of climate change science, offer creationism as a false equivalent to evolution, and alter other areas of education they didn’t agree with as a special interest group. Out of the seven counties that reported challenges since the law went into effect, not one resulted in a change of textbook. So a new piece of legislation has been introduced in Florida aimed at correcting that “problem.”

HB855

Brandon Haught*, the head of Florida Citizens for Science, has several great posts fully breaking down the science implications in the new legislation proposed. However, right now, we’re only going to examine the ways in which this new legislation change challenges to instructional materials.

Regular CBLDF supporters and readers will be aware that challenge guidelines are there to help protect intellectual freedom while giving an avenue to voice legitimate concerns. Most well-devised guidelines allow the issue to be examined thoroughly but efficiently and strive to make sure both sides are heard. Below is the language of proposed legislation HB 855, additions to the current law are underlined, and strike-throughs represent deletions from the current wording of the law:

252 4.3. Each district school board must establish a process
253 by which the parent of a public school student or a resident of
254 the county may contest the district school board’s adoption of a
255 specific instructional material. The parent or resident must
256 file a petition, on a form provided by the school board, within
257 30 calendar days after the adoption of the material by the
258 school board. The school board must make the form easy to use,
259 prominently advertise the school board’s policy and the form

260 available to the public, and publish the form on the school
261 district’s website. The form must be signed by the parent or
262 resident, include the required contact information, and state
263 the objection to the instructional material based on the
264 criteria of s. 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d). A hearing officer
265 must give priority to a parent’s or resident’s objections based
266 on failure of a material to comply with the criteria of s.
267 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d) in his or her written findings.

268 Within 30 days after the 30-day period has expired, the school
269 board must, for all petitions timely received, commission
270 conduct at least one open public hearing by an independent
271 before an unbiased and qualified hearing officer. A district
272 school board may not appoint its own hearing officer and
the
273 hearing officer may not be an employee or agent of the school
274 district. At least 7 days before the hearing, a school board
275 must provide each petitioner with a written notification of the
276 date and time of the hearing and publish on its website for the
277 public all instructional materials included in a petition. A
278 school board’s failure to provide petitioners with the required
279 written notice or publish such instructional materials on its
280 website for the public shall result in the hearing being
281 rescheduled to satisfy these requirements.
The hearing is not
282 subject to the provisions of chapter 120.; however, The hearing
283 must provide sufficient procedural protections to allow each
284 petitioner an adequate and fair opportunity to be heard and
285 present evidence to the hearing officer on all petitions timely
286 received. The hearing officer shall provide written findings on
287 each objection with his or her recommendations to the school
288 board. Failure of the hearing officer to provide written
289 findings on each objection voids the adoption process. Members
290 of the district school board, the district school
291 superintendent, and any attorney for the school district may
292 attend a hearing as part of the audience, but may not
293 participate in the hearing. An attorney for the school district
294 may not have been involved in designing or establishing the
295 rules of operation for the hearing.

297 The rationale for the school board’s decision for each contested
298 instructional material must be documented and available to the
299 public. Decisions regarding such instructional materials by the
300 school board may be appealed by the petitioner to the State
301 Board of Education. A petitioner may appeal the decision of the
302 state board to a circuit court and may seek damages or
303 injunctive relief, or both. The circuit court has original and
304 exclusive jurisdiction of all proceedings brought under this
305 section. If any proceeding brought under this section is deemed
306 to be frivolous by the court, the petitioner may recover
307 reasonable attorney fees and costs
after convening a hearing is
308 final and not subject to further petition or review
.

What This Means

The Florida Citizens Alliance upset that their carefully crafted textbook law didn’t cause the distress and upheaval it aimed to create, has implemented language in the new law to fix things they felt were patently unfair (to themselves) before.

  • The Alliance didn’t like the hearing officers chosen last year, so they’re legislating changes to how those officers are selected (lines 271 – 272) “A district school board may not appoint its own hearing officer.”
  • They want to waste as much time and energy possible, so they’re requiring written recommendations for each challenge. Keep in mind, it takes much more energy to review these challenges than to make them in the first place, (lines 286 – 289) “The hearing officer shall provide written findings on each objection with his or her recommendations to the school board. Failure of the hearing officer to provide written findings on each objection voids the adoption process.”
  • They don’t want any lawyers in favor of education meddling with these meetings, so (lines 294 – 295) “An attorney for the school district may not have been involved in designing or establishing the rules of operation for the hearing.”
  • And in case all else fails, the Florida Citizens Alliance, unhappy with being unable to win a single challenge last year, adds caveats just in case they still can’t win a challenge (lines 301 – 3018) “A petitioner may appeal the decision of the state board to a circuit court and may seek damages or injunctive relief, or both. The circuit court has original and exclusive jurisdiction of all proceedings brought under this section. If any proceeding brought under this section is deemed to be frivolous by the court, the petitioner may recover reasonable attorney fees and costs after convening a hearing is final and not subject to further petition or review.”

As Brandon Haught writes of these changes to the legislation:
“And that how special interest groups in Florida make laws.”

Wrap Up

This is just one small section of one of the three pieces of legislation proposed by Florida Citizens Alliance that tackles challenges to instructional materials. These laws also have far too much to say about the teaching of “controversial” topics – likely climate change, evolution, sexual education, social studies, and more. CBLDF will be posting more articles attempting to break down the implications of this legislation, as well as any updates to its progress in the future.

If you live in Florida, reach out to your representative in the House Legislature and let them know you do not stand with HB 855. Call your friends and family in Florida and ask them to fight for the rights of teachers and administrators to teach, instead of being hijacked by whatever wackadoo in the community has the most time to devote to challenging textbooks. These erosions of the First Amendment add up. And unfortunately, in this case, they add up to the detriment of students and teachers.

Tags: , , , , , ,