Florida’s Textbooks Woes Gaining Momentum

Florida flagThe newly elected Governor of Florida has already appointed individuals to his education transition team who have previously inhibited school districts ability to teach students accurate science. Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed Keith Flaugh, the managing director of Florida Citizen’s Alliance, who was instrumental in advocating the textbook law allowing any citizen to file an objection to any textbook.

Flaugh has previously said publicly, “Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way.” Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 that teaching creationism in public schools violates the Establishment Cause of the First Amendment because “creation science” is composed of religious tenets, and therefore is designed to further a particular religion.

According to a recent post on Education Week, in textbook challenges that Flaugh has personally made his comments include things like: “Man-made global warming [is] presented as fact when it is still very much a theory!” And “Books that treat evolution as a proven science are discriminating and bully children and families against their religious beliefs.”

Gov. DeSantis also appointed Erika Donalds, ex-Board Member of the Collier County School district who voted for removing textbooks that Keith Flaugh objected to. Donalds is also the wife of Representative Byron Donalds, a member of the Tea Party in the Florida State House of Representatives, who sponsored the HB 989 bill which gave all citizens the right to object to school textbooks.

Stephen Sawchuk, who wrote the Education Week article Coming Soon to Florida: More Challenges for Districts’ Science Curricula?, had this to say about the political appointments:

Of course, it is not clear yet what DeSantis, Flaugh, or Donalds have in mind specifically for education. But at the very least, the dots are lining up here for a wave of new challenges. As I reported in my earlier story on the FCA, what separates it from other anti-evolution efforts is that these activists are working through the grassroots and training local activists in many counties. It’s not a stretch to assume that, with Flaugh and Donalds in a more powerful state role, people who share their views will feel emboldened to express them locally.

Education Week also asked for the countries to report textbook challenges for the 2017-2018 school year, since it was the first year that HB 989 was in effect. Though not all counties replied, below is the information they were able to ascertain.

“Collier County: Four residents submitted more than 250 individual objections to 18 science textbooks, primarily on how they presented evolution, the weather, and climate change. A hearing officer established the parameters for a special school board meeting and vote but did not issue a recommendation. On a 3-2 vote, the school board upheld the textbooks.

Martin County: Five residents challenged two of the district’s science textbooks, and requested that the district “develop curriculum that presents an objective case both for and against evolution.” After the hearing, the hearing officer compared these complaints to the arguments in the 2005 Dover case. He recommended that the county reject the challenges. On a 3-2 vote, the school board voted to retain the books.

Nassau County: A single resident challenged three textbooks arguing that “bacteria to man evolution” is not supported by science and that the material was “inflammatory to every Christian.” It sought to have the district place disclaimers on the books. A hearing officer oversaw the presentation of evidence at the hearing, but did not issue a recommendation. The district’s chief legal officer warned against a potential lawsuit if the books were thrown out, and the board voted to keep the materials in a 5-0 vote.”

CBLDF has covered this law extensively including some of the challenges this year. In addition to publicizing this information, CBLDF has organized with other likeminded freedom to read advocates and created the Florida Education Defenders to help school districts with fight unnecessary challenges designed to waste their time and resources. Florida Education Defenders works to limit the negative effects of HB 989 by:

  • Tracking book challenges in the press and through confidential reports
  • Sharing resources on book adoption and challenges, including guidance for defending science texts
  • Providing guidance to teachers confronting challenges
  • Supporting administrators with policy guidance and best practices for reviewing instructional materials
  • Mobilizing the Florida education community to advocate for policy and legislative reforms

Anyone who learns of a challenge in Florida is encouraged to report book challenges online. The form can be found here.

Florida Education Defenders is a joint effort by CBLDF, National Coalition Against Censorship, Florida Citizens for Science, Florida Conference of Historians, Florida Education Association, American Library Association, Authors Guild, National Council of Teachers of English, and PEN America.

Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!