New law allows anyone to question what’s taught in school

Now, anyone may question instructional materials at a public school including books on the library shelves.
Now, anyone may question instructional materials at a public school including books on the library shelves.

A newly signed law in Florida allows anyone, not just parents of school children, to question the instructional materials taught in school, from science to the novels available in the libraries.

Critics call it the “anti-science” law, which made waves across the nation after Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 989 into law June 26 and it took effect July 1. Supporters say it’s about time those who disbelieve global warming and evolution get a chance to weigh in on textbooks and online materials being used in classes.

“It allows a single citizen to impose his or her beliefs on an entire school district and requires that school district to respond,” said Kara Gross, legislative counsel for the ACLU of Florida. “Every and any county resident, whether or not they have children or children in school.”

It also opens up a new route to possible censorship in schools that already have policies in place to screen materials made available to children.

“They’re objecting to materials that already meet state standards,” Gross said.

Once a certain instructional material is questioned, a school district must appoint a hearing officer to decide the case. The law only states that the hearing officer cannot work for the schools.

The National Center for Science and Education says there is no doubt which subjects the new law questions.

“Climate change and evolution were clearly among the targets of HB 989,” the center said in a statement.

Supporters of the bill submitted affidavits that included statements such as, “I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality,” from a certified teacher in Collier County.

The group behind the bill, the Florida Citizens Alliance, says it is in response to complaints it tallied in a list that includes novels by Toni Morrison, a memoir by Frank McCourt, “Angela’s Ashes,” and books that depict same-sex relationships, along with facts it says are distorted:

“Gorbachev responsible for bring down East Berlin Wall, no mention of Reagan,” the list notes in shorthand.

“We were getting a lot of complaints about religious indoctrination, political indoctrination, revisionist history and even pornography in the textbooks,” said the group’s managing director, Keith Flaugh, in an interview with “Frontline.”

Florida Keys Schools Superintendent Mark Porter said he doesn’t expect any flurry of activity in response to the new law but said the district will have to develop a new policy to match the new law. As for who the hearing officer should be, Porter said that is up to interpretation.

“We have a very thorough process for the adoption of materials, that’s what really makes the most sense,” Porter said. “This opens up the opportunity for after adoption for materials to be evaluated.”

Since he was hired in 2012, Porter said he hasn’t had a phone call questioning such materials on science or any other subject.

Reconsidering textbooks once they’ve been purchased could lead to costly changes, Porter said.

“It may certainly instigate some activity in some areas,” Porter said. “I’m not really expecting to see a lot happen in Monroe County.”

Porter added, “To challenge doesn’t mean it has to be changed.”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen