Florida schools and families faced questions after the Department of Education rejected a record number of math textbooks, offering few details about the books’ content or accusations from state officials that textbook companies books attempted to indoctrinate students on topics such as critical race theory.
School districts, including some that have already adopted textbooks for the fall semester, have scrambled to adjust their plans. Meanwhile, a lawmaker questioned who evaluated the books, and the state teachers’ union called for more transparency.
“In my 16 years with the district I have never encountered a problem like this,” said Mike Barber, spokesman for the School District of Manatee County. “We were taken by surprise at the moment, but what I have is that we are in good shape for next year.”
Other school districts, including Palm Beach County, have already reviewed and approved new math textbooks for the upcoming school year, along with the millions of dollars needed to purchase those materials. It was not immediately clear if those books included now-rejected material or if the district has officially placed orders.
A press release from the Department of Education, published Friday and titled “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students,” said that 54 textbooks, or 41% of all books submitted, did not meet standards. Florida criteria, the most in state history.
Many of the rejected books, the state said, included critical race theory (CRT) or social-emotional learning (SEL), which includes concepts such as empathy and managing feelings, while others did not meet BEST standards. , Florida’s replacement for Common Core. .
“Mathematics is about getting the right answer,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday during a news conference in Jacksonville. “We want children to learn to think so that they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem or bringing in some of these other things.”
Publishers now have the option to appeal or revise their textbooks and reapply, though Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said in a recent interview with Fox & Friends that publishers “probably won’t” go that route.
“This was a very transparent and open process,” he said. “The Department of Education did it with a lot of people who were former teachers and former administrators, going through textbooks to make sure they didn’t have these kinds of philosophies and ideologies that are harmful to children.”
The Education Department did not respond to a request Monday for specific examples of the material that prompted the books’ rejection.
What happens next for school districts?
In the Indian River County school district, school board members are scheduled to consider new textbooks in a week, and four of those books are now on the state’s list of rejected materials.
And while Indian River schools could legally adopt books that weren’t on the state-approved list, the district hoped to align with the Department of Education, said Cristen Maddux, the district spokeswoman.
“Every district tries to play by the rules,” Maddux said.
Palm Beach County school district committees, including teachers and parents, met in late 2021 to review the new math textbooks, before the school board held a public hearing on the books in January. In the absence of public comment, the board went ahead and approved the textbooks in March.
At the time, the school district anticipated more than $20 million in spending to implement the new materials.
It was unclear Monday whether the district mandated approval of the books last month and what the next steps might be and the financial repercussions if some books don’t align with Florida’s list.
The list of board-approved textbooks for Palm Beach County schools appears to align, in large part, with the list of state-approved materials, according to a review by The Palm Beach Post.
The school district had not yet completed its review as of Monday afternoon, spokeswoman Claudia Shea said, noting that “more information about the impact of the state’s guidance will be forthcoming.”
‘We don’t have a detailed understanding of why’
The state news release included a link to the approved textbooks but not the list of rejected materials, leading some people, including state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, to question the review process.
“I wonder if these math books highlighted statistics of racial disparities and that’s what they don’t like,” Eskamani said on Twitter.
In response to a query from The Palm Beach Post, the Department of Education provided the list of 54 rejected books Monday afternoon, but did not offer examples of the material Florida found objectionable.
The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, released a statement calling for more transparency at the same time.
“If elementary-level textbooks are rejected for critical race theory or social-emotional learning, how about further defining those terms and giving examples of objectionable content?” FEA said. “Who checked the textbooks and what are their grades? As it stands now, only one publisher’s full set of K-5 math textbooks are available to districts in Florida, and we don’t have a detailed understanding of why.”
The announcement also quickly generated confusion on social media.
Some online commentators speculated that the Florida Department of Education, under the leadership of DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, rejected the books for political reasons. Others praised the state for removing “wake-up” material from schools.
“The books were rejected because they contain critical racial theory, which is now illegal in Florida to teach children,” said one commenter on Facebook.
“This is (fishing for) campaign funds and votes, encouraging people like you to send them money so they can continue feeding at the public feed trough,” another person continued.
Union President Justin Katz of the Palm Beach County CTA said greater transparency would stop rumors permeating schools and social media.
Katz said the Florida Department of Education “generally stated” concerns with critical race theory and other topics supposedly found in the books, but as of Monday, the state offered nothing specific.
“Whether people agree or disagree is one thing, but unless you specify why they’re banned, you’re creating speculation,” Katz said.
USA Today columnist Rex Huppke and Florida Network staff writers Zach Anderson, Arnie Rosenberg and Victor Hull contributed to this story.