Par­ents may get say on books

Bill broad­ens who can ban texts in schools

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Les­lie Postal and Scott Travis Staff writ­ers

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.

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