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Education Desk: A Look At Florida’s Textbook Law


A new state law allows any Florida resident to question what's being taught in the state's public schools.

A handful of complaints have been filed in school districts across the state since the law took effect in July. Cathy Carter recently spoke with Renalia DuBose, a professor at WMU-Cooley Law School in Tampa about what the new Florida textbook challenge law is all about.

Any resident can now file a petition with a school district to note their objection. It would then be heard by a hearing officer who makes a recommendation on the objection to the school board.  School districts would then make a final decision on the petition. Districts must now also post all new material on the web by grade level.

Proponents of the law say it makes the process much easier. But Renalia DuBose, an expert of education law, and former director of training and staff development for Hillsborough County Public Schools, believes the new law is unnecessary.

“First of all, if you don't like something that the board has done you have the opportunity in the open forum section of any school board meeting to go and talk to the board,” she said. “I think that needs to be the avenue to make your feelings heard, because the way the legislation is written, the hearing officer is now going to become your voice.”

Critics of the law, including The ACLU of Florida and the Florida Library Association, say it gives outside ideologically motivated groups too much potential influence on public education and could affect teaching topics like climate change and evolution.

Advocates, meanwhile, argue that the law gives parents and residents a greater say in what children are being taught in public schools.  The Florida Citizens' Alliance, a conservative group which lobbied for the law, says it will help prevent bias in how textbooks deal with controversial issues.

DuBose, a professor at WMU Cooley Law School in Tampa, says disputes over curriculum are nothing new.

“Well, I will tell you, dating back to the time when Horace Mann established public education systems, everybody has never agreed with everything that's being taught. Some people don't like evolution. Some people don't like creationism. If we held a school up until everybody agreed, we would never be able to educate children.”

Florida's Department of Education is developing guidelines for school districts on how to comply with the law. The state school board association says they expect the law will likely spur more challenges to textbooks and curriculum in Florida’s public schools.

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