Florida bill calls for alternatives to climate change, evolution education

Sen. Dennis Baxley says educational standards bill not an attack on science

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist, Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

OCALA, Fla. - A Florida Republican lawmaker's bill would change the way public schools educate K-12 students about climate change and evolution, topics he calls controversial.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, who represents Marion and Sumter counties, said Florida Senate Bill 330 would allow school districts more academic freedom of how they teach science topics but Baxley said the measure is not intended as an attack on science.

"The purpose of this bill is to allow people to question and challenge certain ideas rather than saying 'This is the way it is,'" Baxley told News 6.

[READ: Senate Bill 330- Educational Standards for K-12 Public Schools]

It's the second time Baxley has proposed legislation to change the way public schools teach alternative theories about climate change and evolution. Another version of the bill failed last year.

The Educational Standards for K-12 Public Schools bill was filed in the Florida Senate on Jan. 14. The bill would revise the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards requirements for instructional materials that a district school superintendent annually certifies.

"We pursue all kinds of diversity but then we are like 'Don't dare question anything that is set science,' and the whole pursuit of science, for example, is pursue everything," Baxley said. "There was a time in science that the world was flat."

The Greek philosopher Aristotle found evidence that the Earth is sphere-shaped around 330 B.C.

Under the bill, "Controversial theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective and balanced manner."

The Florida Citizens Alliance, a grassroots nonprofit organization, helped Baxley draft the bill. Florida Citizens Alliance Managing Director Keith Flaugh released a statement saying the bill will also achieve greater academic standards farther than the current Sunshine State Standards.

"FLCA strongly supports Senator Baxley’s SB330. When passed it would enable school districts to select standards better than ( or equal to) existing Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Today Florida statutes require each superintendent to certify by March 31st of each year that their instructional materials “align with” NGSSS," Flaugh said. "Our goal is to give the school districts the ability to truly seek better standards (and curriculum) to strive for the academic excellence of each and every student."

The National Center for Science disagrees and called the bill "anti-science" in a news release Tuesday.

"Although there is no indication in the bill about which 'theories and concepts' are deemed to be 'controversial,' much less any guidance about adjudicating disputes about which are and which are not, it is suggestive that the bill's sole sponsor, Dennis Baxley (R-District 12), has a history of anti-evolution advocacy," the California-based group said.

A new survey from Yale University and George Mason University that tracked public opinions about climate change in a nationwide survey last year found that 73 percent of Americans think climate change is happening.

Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it isn’t by more than a 5-to-1 ratio, according to the survey.

Parents of students in Ocala had mixed reactions to the proposed legislation.

Tim Lorenzen said alternatives to climate change and evolution have no place in the public education system.

"I don't believe, in school, they should be teaching that whatsoever," Lorenzen said. "There are too many reasons not to, especially scientific, and based on facts."

Parent Nicholas Gibson said students should be allowed to figure it out for themselves after being presented "the full story."

"Science doesn't explain everything in the world," Gibson said.

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