Advertisement
  1. The Buzz

Florida bill would have students learn alternatives to climate change, evolution

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said that schools need to teach “different worldviews” on issues like evolution and climate change. He asserts that textbooks now skew toward “uniformity” of thought.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala
Published Jan. 29, 2019

A bill that would allow school districts to teach Florida students alternatives to concepts deemed “controversial theories” — such as human-caused climate change and evolution — has been filed in the state Legislature.

The language of the bill sounds fairly unremarkable, requiring only that schools “shall” teach these “theories” in a “factual, objective, and balanced manner.” But the group that wrote the bill, the Florida Citizens Alliance, says the bill is needed because curriculum currently taught in Florida schools equates to “political and religious indoctrination,” according to their managing director, Keith Flaugh.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said that schools need to teach “different worldviews” on issues like evolution and climate change. He asserts that textbooks now skew toward “uniformity” of thought.

“Nothing is ever settled if it’s science, because people are always questioning science,” Baxley said. “If you look at the history of human learning, for a long time the official worldview was that the world was flat. Anything you now accept as fact comes from a perspective and you learn from examining different schools of thought.”

Both evolution and climate change are well-established fact in the scientific community.

“It is resolved,” said Ben Kirtman, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences the University of Miami, in reference to climate change. “I find this a way to create artificial doubt about the science to control policy conversation, which is antithetical to the way we do things in this country … The danger is you’re going to have people who don’t have a fundamental understanding of the way science works.”

Teaching alternative concepts would also take time away from what occupies already-packed curriculum schedules — established science, said Brandon Haught, a founding board member of Florida Citizens for Science who also teaches freshman environmental science at a high school about 45 minutes north of Orlando.

“In K-12, keep in mind, we’re laying the basic foundation for the rest of their lives … I want to teach them science, period,” he said. “We only have a handful of days for dedicated lesson on this topic (climate change), so I don’t have time to say, ‘This is what other people think.’”

Baxley’s bill also touches on history lessons, requiring that “government and civics content shall strictly adhere to the founding values and principles of the United States.”

Baxley is known as a lightning rod for contentious issues, running bills in the past from everything to allowing guns in churches to banning designated protest areas called “free speech zones” on college campuses. He was also one of the authors of the 2005 “stand your ground” bill. Flaugh said that language is designed to guard against certain textbooks, such as those made by the textbook giant Pearson, which he argues are “teaching Socialism.”

“They’re actually undermining our principles and values,” he said. “One of the biggest things they do is they’re teaching our kids that the Electoral College is out-of-date. That’s the only vestige of our Constitutional republic that’s left.”

The bill would allow school boards to adopt a core curriculum that differs from the state’s current state standards, as long as they are “equivalent to or more rigorous” in terms of difficulty.

This bill was also filed last year and has a long road ahead with four committee assignments in the Senate. Flaugh said he expects a House version to be filed shortly.

But the Alliance’s priorities will have a better shot this year than they ever have.

That’s because this group has been gaining influence in the state for the past few years, going from a grassroots movement in the Naples area to advising Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Flaugh and another member of the Florida Citizens Alliance were appointed to DeSantis’ committee that advised his transition team on education. Flaugh said he and another leader of the group met with DeSantis during his primary campaign.

In 2017, the group successfully got another bill passed, which created a process for all community members — rather than just parents of public school students — to object to textbooks and other classroom materials being taught in each school district. It also required districts to make public its list of educational materials.

Flaugh said the group has grown its mailing list from 20,000 people to 50,000 in the past 18 months. And they’re continuing to grow “community watchdog teams” in different Florida counties to evaluate social studies textbooks and file challenges with the districts.

He pointed to DeSantis’ three conservative picks for the state Supreme Court as well as the appointment of Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran as reasons that support for the educational policies of the Alliance will continue to grow.

“I’ve been doing this for six years,” he said. “And I’m more optimistic now than I’ve ever been.”

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on Tuesday, the first day of the annual session. The same day, the advocacy group Equality Florida denounced four bills filed by Republican lawmakers, calling them “the most overtly anti-LGBTQ agenda from the Florida legislature in recent memory.” [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Most of the bills try to eliminate local ordinances, and Republicans say they’ve been unfairly labeled.
  2. Attorney Joseph Bondy tweeted this photo of his client, Lev Parnas (right) with former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi on Friday, Jan. 17. Bondi on Friday was named on of President Donald Trump's impeachment lawyers. [Twitter]
    Parnas’ lawyer tweeted out the photo of the former Florida attorney general along with #TheyAllKnew.
  3. Florida Senator Rob Bradley, R- Fleming Island, watches the action on the first day of the session, 1/14/2020.  [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    A popular bill would allow judges to dole out punishments less than the mandatory minimum sentences spelled out in state law for many drug crimes if the defendant meets certain criteria.
  4. Vice President Mike Pence take selfies with supporters after giving a campaign speech during the "Keep America Great" rally at the Venetian Event Center at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, January 16, 2020.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    ‘Come November the American people are going to have our say,’ Pence said.
  5. Rep. Stan McClain, an Ocala Republican, presents a bill that would allow Florida public colleges and universities to sponsor charter schools, during a January 2020 meeting of the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    Alternative authorizers have been found unconstitutional in the past. But that isn’t stopping the effort.
  6. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, members of the Florida Cabinet, left, and the Florida Supreme Court, right, stand at attention as the colors are posted in the Florida Senate during the first day of the Florida legislative session in Tallahassee, Tuesday, January 14, 2020.  [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    The court ruled that Amendment 4‘s “all terms of sentence” include the payment of all court fees, fines and restitution.
  7. Thousands rallied and marched from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center to the Florida Historic Capitol to demand more money for public schools Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Thousands of school workers from around the state thronged Florida's Capitol on Monday to press Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature to more than double the nearly $1 billion the governor is proposing for teacher raises and bonuses.  (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP) [TORI LYNN SCHNEIDER  |  AP]
    The PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee cutting exercise would come in nearly 25 percent below Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal.
  8. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,, center, speaks as fellow candidates businessman Tom Steyer, from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. listen, Tuesday during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
    The candidates’ proposals reveal differences in how they plan to approach the issue.
  9. Vice President Mike Pence points to supporters before speaking during a campaign rally at the Huntington Center, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) [TONY DEJAK  |  AP]
    Vice President Mike Pence will take the stage in New Tampa, at the Venetian Event Center at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, at 1:30 p.m. It wasn’t planned that way.
  10. <Samsung D70 / D75 / S730 / S750>
    For the first time since he was nominated by Gov. Ron DeSantis for the job of Florida Surgeon General, Scott Rivkees appeared before senators to answer questions that have been percolating for nine...
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement