U.S. News

Florida lawmakers pass bill making it easier to challenge textbooks

(Reuters) - The Florida Senate on Friday narrowly passed a measure that would allow more people to object to textbooks and classroom materials used in public schools, a move opponents warn could result in censorship of controversial topics.

The bill lets any resident seek a hearing to have what they see as objectionable textbooks, library books or material removed from schools. Under current law, only parents of public school children can object to school materials.

The new measure would provide for an unbiased third party to advise local county school boards hearing such challenges.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 19-17 to approve the measure, largely along party lines, with two Republicans voting against it. The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives last month in a 94-25 vote, now goes to Republican Governor Rick Scott.

Scott’s office would not say whether he plans to sign the bill into law.

Similar measures have been considered by dozens of state legislatures in recent years, typically backed by conservative organizations and politicians, and viewed by critics as targeting evolution, climate change and sexually explicit material.

“We’re not trying to ban books,” said Keith Flaugh, founder of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which pushed for that state’s bill.

He said his group is seeking balance in school instruction, including teaching both evolution and creationism and the various arguments about climate change.

Republican Senator Rob Bradley said during the floor debate on Friday that there was no reason to “fear the debate” by taxpayers on what schools teach.

But Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, said parents and residents should not make decisions about what is taught in schools.

“’Balance’ is a code word for ‘censor,’” she said. “It means they don’t like what is being taught, and they want something else being taught.”

Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, a teachers union, said, “Our biggest concern is that people with a political viewpoint may be able to get stuff tossed out that is sound educationally but unacceptable to some.”

Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis