House gives nod to Volusia-inspired textbook review bill

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House, essentially reacting to a months-old protest over the portrayal of Islam in Volusia County school textbooks, passed a bill Monday that would give local school boards, parents and protesters more power over classroom materials.

Hours later, a small but vocal group of demonstrators in Daytona Beach rallied to keep textbook selection free from political battles over religious and cultural differences.

“I’m concerned about having a narrow point of view presented to students; they need to have all sides of an issue, multiple points of view presented,” said Dan Spink, a retired teacher from Port Orange who joined the rally.

The proposal, which still has to go to the state Senate for approval, was the less dramatic of two textbook bills in the Legislature — the other a Senate bill that would have eliminated altogether the state’s role in short-listing and choosing books.

“This is a win for us,” said state Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, who joined in the 84-33 House vote to approve the measure. He said he spoke to local school officials, and “they’d rather take this version of it than the Senate’s.”

Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, voted yes in a break with the House Democrats, most of whom voted against the bill. Rep. Dave Hood, R-Daytona Beach Shores, was not present for the vote.

The issue itself started in Volusia. A November School Board meeting was canceled because of security concerns when conservatives rallied to protest the use of the 10th-grade world history textbook they called pro-Islam. The book had a chapter about the rise of Muslim civilizations without a corresponding chapter on Christianity.

The measure the House approved retains the state-level textbook screening process, along with an existing option (passed by the Legislature last year) for local school boards to take over the instructional materials review and selection process if they want.

The House’s language also would require school boards to adopt a formal process for public review and comment on textbooks being considered for adoption and resolution of any objections that might arise from that.

In the Senate, Hays’ original bill would have gone a step further, eliminating the state review and short-listing of appropriate textbooks altogether. That task would’ve been turned over to local districts individually or in small groups. That version passed the Senate earlier this month by a vote of 21-19. Local Republicans Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange and John Thrasher of St. Augustine supported it.