By Jerry Gordon:
Last Friday in Tallahassee, April 11, 2014, the Republican controlled Florida Senate passed SB864 sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) by a narrow vote of 21 to 19. The measure would eliminate State Department of Education control over selection of textbooks returning that role to Florida’s 67 school districts, requiring open public hearing on texts used in courses. The bill reflected in part concerns of conservative Groups over the Common Core Curriculum State Standards, sponsored by the National Association of Governors and Council of Chief State School Officers seeking to impose national standards. Despite that criticism the Common Core has been adopted in Forty-four states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA).
However, SB864 was largely prompted by a different issue; objections of parental groups in several Florida counties in about the treatment of Islam and Muslim culture in world history textbooks on the Florida State Department of Education list of approved texts. A companion bill (HB 921) is working its way through the Florida House sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton. That version would provide a local option to districts to review texts; however, the selections must still meet state standards. Gaetz was quoted in a News Herald editorial saying: “I think there’s an increasing frustration by parents in our state, that they don’t have a lot of say regarding the content and materials their children use in the classroom.”
Local advocates here in Florida drew attention to misrepresentations of Islam in protests in Volusia, Brevard and Sarasota Counties. Our Iconoclast post on the subject, “Sarasota, Florida’s biased Islam textbook problem”, highlighted the relentless efforts of citizen activist Aya Sewell. Ms. Sewell is of Iraqi Jewish heritage, members of her family were subject to a 1941 pogrom against the Jewish population in Baghdad, the Farhud. Sewell led a campaign against such texts locally in Sarasota, as well as before the Florida Department of Education. Elsewhere in the US, Tennessee parents have also raised objections to similar course material extolling Palestinian suicide bombers. Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) in Boston accused the Newton, Massachusetts school board and superintendent for permitting use of texts and course materials that engage in promoting false information regarding both Islam and demonization of Israel. APT undertook content and bias analysis and promoted their findings that included placing ads in local area media and a petition campaign.
An article in the current edition of Education Week noted the debate over the pending Florida textbook legislation:
[Sen. ]Hays said the legislation was needed so that school board members will be accountable to parents and voters. He said school board members have blamed the state for the textbooks they picked.
“This bill imposes on the local school board members the responsibility and accountability to their citizens,” Hays said.
Opponents complained it would cost districts money to review textbooks. Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said she was worried that some districts would wind up censoring some books, while other senators raised questions about whether districts would pick textbooks aligned to the state’s current standards.
Even Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart questioned Hays’ bill.
“From a practical standpoint it lifts a burden from us,” Stewart said. “But we heard loud and clear from districts that they rely on (the state review). They need that. They don’t have the resources to be able to do that.”
Following the Florida Senate vote on SB864, CAIR-Florida unleashed an ad hominem campaign against Sen. Hays. CAIR undertook an Action Campaign sending Florida Legislators an inflammatory Daily Beast opinion column by Dean Obeidallah, that headlined, “Islamophobic Florida Republican Would Legalize Textbook Censorship”. Obeidallah (which means “little servant of God in Arabic”) is a former lawyer, self-styled Arab American standup comic, son of a Palestinian father and mother of Sicilian ancestry who grew up in Paramus, New Jersey. Self proclaimed Muslim Obeidallah has been involved in several controversial issues including an apology to the Romney family. CAIR, a Muslim Brotherhood front group, was listed as one of several unindicted co-conspirators in the 2008 Federal Dallas Holy Land Foundation Trial involving funneling tens of millions to Hamas, an MB affiliate.
Read more at NER