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New laws on the books – Religious freedom in public schools and the right to challenge school materials

By Tami Stevenson

A new law on the books is causing heated debates among proponents and its critics. CS/CS/HB 989 Instructional Materials was signed by Governor Rick Scott last month and went into effect July 1st. The new law makes it easier for parents and now residents to challenge what public schools are teaching students by allowing greater public input and transparency in the K-12 instructional materials adoption process.    

- Courtesy Photo

News sources say evolution and climate change advocates are declaring this new law an “antiscience bill” and that it could cause students to ‘have doubts’ about climate change and evolution in the classroom if parents and residents begin speaking out against those issues. Proponents of the bill say students should have doubts considering that evolution and climate change are both theories, they are not fact, and they should be taught as such.

According to the bill, schools now must post all educational materials on their website for the public to view.  If a parent or resident that resides in the district, wishes to challenge any instructional material they will have 30 days from the time the material is adopted by the school board to fill out the proper forms and submit them. According to the bill the school board must make the forms available to the public and publish them on the district’s website.

The bill states: “The form must be signed by the parent or resident, include the required contact information, and state the objection to the instructional material based on the criteria of 145 s. 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d). Within 30 days after the 30-day period has expired, the school board must, for all petitions timely received, conduct at least one open public hearing before an unbiased and qualified hearing officer. The hearing officer may not be an employee or agent of the school district.”

Another change to the previous law is qualifying residents of a county can now file a petition for classroom material to be removed as well, even if they have no children in the school system. The bill states parents as well as county residents now have the right: “ challenge the use or adoption of instructional materials; revising the requirements relating to the district school board process for objecting to or appealing the use or adoption of instructional materials; requiring a school district to discontinue use of materials under certain circumstances; requiring sufficient procedural protections for a public hearing relating to a challenge to the adoption of instructional materials; requiring a school district to provide access to school library materials upon written request.”

Critics of HB 989 also say that in light of another bill that also became law on July 1, SB 436: Religious Expression in Public Schools, they are concerned if the two are used in conjunction with each other, evolution and climate change could be undermined in the classroom.

The new law allows students, parents and school personnel to express their religious viewpoints or expression in any of their coursework, artwork or otherwise, without fear of discrimination from the school district.

Advocates of SB 436 and HB 989 feel that at least with these new laws religious and secular expression may have equal weight in public schools.

The bills in their entirety are available at