Parents may get say on books
Bill broadens who can ban texts in schools
Floridians who view school textbooks as too liberal and books in school libraries as inappropriate may get legislative help to more easily object to classroom materials they don’t like.
“Today, parents are purposely blocked from being involved in their children’s education,” said Hamilton Boone, a Brevard County father who tried unsuccessfully to get the Pulitzer Prize winning novel “Beloved” removed from his son’s high school library in 2015.
Under two proposed bills (HB 989 and SB 1202), residents could more easily object to classroom materials, review volumes in school libraries and, if needed, argue their views before an “unbiased and qualified hearing officer” who could deem the items unsuitable and require they not be used. Currently, residents can take their complaints only to the local school board.
Critics view the bills as an attempt to ban books that some people don’t like.
“I think it’s a real step toward censorship. It’s concerning to me that people that aren’t educators would have that much say,” said Kathi Gundlach, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association. “You would get so many views, it’s just a dangerous slippery slope.”
Robin Bartleman, a Broward County School Board member, said she remembers a mother asking that “Harry Potter” be removed from her child’s school because of its references to witchcraft.
“I think it needs to be a personal choice,” Bartleman said. “Harry Potter has instilled the love of reading in somany children. If a parent doesn’t want to be exposed to that, don’t let your child check out the book.”
Several groups, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, have urged the bills’ defeat. Some also worry the legislation could force school districts to hold several time-consuming hearings, even if the objections to a textbook come from one resident who may not have children in the public schools.
Some science advocates say they fear the bills could lead to topics such as evolution being removed from class lessons.
But that would suit Martin County resident Lynda Daniel just fine. She wrote legislators about her objections to a textbook that presented “evolution as fact.”
“The vast majority of Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible,” she wrote.
Dan Gohl, chief academic officer for Broward County schools, said textbooks are adopted at public meetings where parents have input. Those with concerns about library books can discuss it with school and district administrators, and the concerns can be elevated to the School Board if they’re not satisfied.
But some Florida parents say school boards aren’t responsive enough.
Boone and his wife — who called Toni Morrison’s novel “pornographic material”— are among 25 people who have written affidavits contending that local school boards have ignored their pleas about objectionable books and assignments. Lawmakers have cited the affidavits to explain why a new lawis needed.
The current process, Boone’s wife, Penny, wrote in her affidavit, is “geared 100 percent against the parent.”
The bills are also supported by some who dislike the national Common Core standards, which Florida’s education standards are based on. State law says textbooks must adhere to the standards, which frustrates Delray Beach resident Alison Rampersad.
“Some of the textbooks introduced contain information that is historically incorrect or flat out false or things our children in K-12 don’t need to know,” she said.
The House version of the bill is ready for a vote by the full chamber. The Senate bill has one more committee stop.
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, the Senate sponsor, said the bills are an effort to close loopholes in a2014law and make sure residents have a way to challenge school books they view as inappropriate.
Most school textbooks purchased by Florida’s 67 school districts come froma list of state-approved instructional materials. And in most counties, residents likely won’t object, Lee said.
But, he added, “there are some counties where the constituents … believe that the instructional material being vetted by the state is too liberal and therefore some of the instructional material has inappropriate information by their community standards.”
The majority of the affidavits are from residents of Collier County in southwest Florida. The House bill is sponsored by a Collier resident, Rep. Bryron Donalds, R-Naples.
His wife, Erika, is on the Collier County School Board and a member of the Florida Coalition of School Board members, a 3-year-old group that espouses conservative principles.
Collier resident Yvonne Isecke wrote in her affidavit that when her oldest child began middle school, she noticed “very disturbing content” in the curriculum, including “sexual explicitness, anti-Americanism, political and Islamic indoctrination.”
She said she complained “to no avail” to teachers, the school principal, the superintendent and school board members.
The affidavits were collected by the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a group whose focus is to “stop federal overreach and restore our individual rights.”
Ruth Melton, director of advocacy services for the Florida School Boards Association, said her group believes residents should be able to express their views about school books. But it has some concerns about the bills, such as whether they will mean residents could continue to file protests long after school boards have voted to adopt textbooks for use in upcoming classes.
“Have we created language here that just invites challenge and litigation?” she said.