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Florida Textbook Law Lets Residents Challenge School Curriculum

Row of books on shelf
Cathy Carter
Florida lawmakers say the legislation makes it easier for parents and residents to challenge school material.

A new 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. Previously, challenges to curriculum and instructional material could only be made by parents.

Now, any resident can file a petition with a school district to object. A hearing officer will consider the case and make a recommendation on the complaint to the school board.  Districts would then make the final call.

Proponents of the law say it makes the process much easier. But Renalia DuBose, an education law professor, 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 such as 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," she said. "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.”

Districts must now also post all new material on the web by grade level. And Florida's Department of Education is developing guidelines for school districts on how to comply with the law.

The state school board association says it expects the law will likely spur more challenges to textbooks and curriculum in Florida’s public schools.

Districts must now also post all new material on the web by grade level.

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