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  1. Gradebook

Florida School book removal bill overhauled before first committee stop

The proposed committee substitute removes most of the controversial provisions.

A Florida House bill that the sponsor said aimed to “remove pornography” from public schools has had most of its teeth removed in a substitute measure proposed by its committee of first reference.

The PreK-12 Quality committee has taken the 24-page HB 855 and trimmed it back to six pages before its scheduled hearing Tuesday afternoon. The stripped down version takes out some of the most contentious language that had anti-censorship advocates most alarmed.

Among the parts not appearing in the committee substitute are provisions that would criminalize the purchase of materials that are not found “acceptable,” the deletion of language setting literature apart from pornography, and an overhaul of the textbook challenge process including removal of a school board’s final authority over such decisions.

Instead, the shorter version calls for less sweeping changes, such as:

• Requiring a school principal to share with parents the content of sex education course work at least 10 days before the lessons take place.

• Mandating school boards to provide, at a minimum, the title, author and ISBN code for all instructional material.

• Instructing all school districts to adopt review processes for all supplemental materials. It would further authorize the commissioner of education to review these processes and report on them.

The original version of the legislation, which had an identical companion in the Senate (SB 1454), had received criticism from several fronts.

Related: Will Florida legislators make it easier to ban books in schools? We’ll soon find out.

Some superintendents suggested efforts to take away districts’ rights to decide upon their classroom materials would amount to a taking of local control by the state. Groups supporting science education worried that the initiative could target subjects such as climate control and evolution, which have come under fire by the group pushing the measure.

Questions also emerged about the propriety of allowing a political group to substitute its judgment for that of parents, at a time when the state has touted parents’ ability to decide their children’s educational needs.

One columnist went even further, noting the legislation could end up at odds with a separate bill, recently approved by PreK-12 Quality, to require public high schools offer courses in the Bible, which has plenty of sex in it.

Of course, just because wording gets changed in one stop does not mean it cannot come back, as recent legislative sessions have proven. The Senate version remains the same, so far, and could emerge as the final result if the bills get that far. Activists on both sides of the equation expect to keep on top of the proposal to the end.

The committee is scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, where this is one of just two bills on the agenda.