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Group Plans lawsuit over textbook adoption changes

By Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida, WCTV
August 11, 2011

A Boca Raton group that believes some Florida textbooks are slanted to favor Islamic beliefs plans to file a lawsuit against the state of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott for approving a new law that changes the state's textbook adoption process.

Citizens for National Security will file its lawsuit Thursday in a Palm Beach County circuit court, saying the new law violates the state constitution's promise of a "high-quality" education.

The dramatic changes to the textbook adoption process contained in SB 2120, a new state law tied to the education budget, eliminated the use of large statewide committees of public school teachers, administrators, school board members and private citizens to review textbooks.

Instead, the education commissioner hand-picks three state or national "subject matter experts" to examine the books, with only two people reviewing the books and the third acting as a tie-breaker.

"It is not possible for two people to review all the textbooks in Florida within a 4 month period of time," the complaint says. "Prior to the passage of SB 2120, the selection/adoption process for history and geography textbooks required the reviews of more than 40 people, and took approximately one year to complete."

Citizens for National Security Chairman William Saxton said his group believes the new law removes a valuable form of oversight from the textbook selection process.

"We need to have the new law repealed because what the new law does is totally disenfranchise the public from having any role in the selection of K-12 public textbooks," Saxton said. "In the old law it wasn't a significant role, but it was a role. There was oversight."

Barry Silver, an attorney representing Citizens for National Security and a former Democratic state representative, said changing the textbook adoption policies opens the window to religious indoctrination of children.

He called textbook selection a "monumental undertaking" and the suggestion that three people could handle this task is "absolutely ridiculous" because it is so time-consuming.

"We need more people, not less, engaged in that task," Silver said.

Saxton said his group has helped conduct a review of existing textbooks and found that some "embrace or embellish" Islamic values over Judeo-Christian values. Saxton said he believes through lobbying textbook adoption committees and textbook publishers, Islamic groups have gotten their point of view into textbooks.

"Its another form of jihad," Saxton said, with "hearts and minds of children" the target.

He said these concerns were brought to the Department of Education and Scott prior to his singing the bill. Scott has become a popular target for lawsuits and this marks at least the eighth time he has been sued since taking office.

"This isnt the first time Gov. Scott has been inappropriately added to a lawsuit where hes not a proper defendant. Its all just a ploy to get a splash in the media and any good lawyer would know better," said Scott spokesman Lane Wright.

School districts can appoint a teacher or district curriculum specialist to review the recommendations by the reviewers. Ultimately, school districts must spend 50 percent of their textbook budgets on state-approved books.

In May, the Department of Education explained the change as a way of curing some problems with the existing adoption process. Mary Jane Tappen, who is in charge of curriculum for the department, said it had become difficult to find people to sit on the committees since it is a huge undertaking.

"We felt like going to a review process where first experts review the content to ensure it is error-free and factual, followed by every district in the state participating in a second review," Tappen said.

The Department of Education said it has yet to select new textbook reviewers under the new law.

"Were still in the process of getting volunteer experts from the universities, state colleges, national organizations other state agency social studies program specialists and private university systems," said department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters. The next textbooks up for adoption are K-12 social studies books.

It's not just groups like Citizens for National Security that are concerned about the new adoption process.

Teachers and school board members who had previously sat on the statewide adoption committees also sounded alarms earlier this year when the Legislature first passed the bill that made the changes.

"We are going to see what happened in Texas, with curriculum being challenged and changed," said April Griffin, a school board member from Hillsborough County Schools, in a May interview with the News Service of Florida. "We are going to see favoritism for certain companies. I think we are going to lose the voice of the front lines in this process."

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