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Florida gives parents, residents power to challenge books

Aug 13, 2017

BY: CCNH-LFDA Highlights

Earlier this summer, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law that grants both parents and local residents more power to challenge textbooks and other course materials being used in Florida schools.

Florida’s new law strengthens powers for parents, residents

Under the new law:

  • Florida public schools must make a list of textbooks and course materials available online.
  • Both parents and residents of the school district who do not have children can contest any materials they object to.
  • Complaints are arbitrated through a third-party hearing process.
  • If the third-party arbiter finds in the parent or resident’s favor, the school must stop using the offending book.

The law does limit the grounds that the arbiter can use to decide to remove a book: it must be pornographic, inappropriate to the age and grade level of the students using it, or “not suited to student needs”.

Previously, parents of students could complain to the school board about materials they objected to. However, the school board had ultimate say over whether the complaint was heeded, leading some parents to argue that their views were being summarily dismissed.

Objectionable course material in New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, parents have the right to opt their own children out of any course material they object to. The school is required to make alternative provisions for the student, with the parent picking up any additional costs.

The law goes a bit further for materials related to human sexuality or sex education. Schools have to notify parents two weeks in advance before such classes are taught, giving them the opportunity to opt their kids out if they object t to the content on religious grounds.

The main difference between this and the Florida law is that the objection applies only to a parent’s own children. The material they object to can still otherwise be used in class for other students whose parents don’t opt them out.

There’s currently no move underway to implement a similar policy in New Hampshire.

Should parents and residents be able to challenge textbooks?

Supporters of giving parents and town residents more power to challenge what materials are used in school argue that schools sometimes choose textbooks that promote a particular political outlook or fail to air other theories about issues such as evolution and creationism or climate change.

"We found them to be full of political indoctrination, religious indoctrination, revisionist history and distorting our founding values and principles, even a significant quantity of pornography."

- Florida Citizens’ Alliance founder Keith Flaugh, on a review of Florida textbooks

They say that the Florida law gives parents more power to impact how their children are taught, and argue that granting residents of the district without school-age children the same power makes sense, because it’s their tax dollars that pay for the school system.

However, others express concerns that a similar law in New Hampshire would have a chilling effect on teaching. The vagueness of what “not suitable” means could see textbooks challenged in ways that compromise their accuracy, such as requiring creationism to be taught on par with evolution or challenging the prevailing scientific consensus on climate change.

The law also potentially entails an additional burden on taxpayers, as hearings and hiring third-party arbiters can be an expensive undertaking.

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