I used to think the characters in Carl Hiaasen’s novels were masterfully comic exaggerations.
That was before I moved to Florida and discovered that Hiaasen’s fiction is far from fictional. In Florida, fringe types aren’t just inescapably vocal and visible, they’re increasingly empowered—by the state legislature.
For example, HB 989 (also known as the Return of Book-Burning Act) now requires every Florida public school district to appoint “an unbiased and qualified hearing officer” to hear any complaint from any resident about any textbook or other instructional material approved for use in the district. From any resident, not just from parents of students.
HB 989 was passed by the legislature and is now law in Florida. It does not provide any guidance for vetting a potential hearing officer, for ensuring the candidate is in fact unbiased, or for determining what the necessary qualifications would be. Nor does it provide any guidance for use in evaluating residents’ complaints.
But we can guess what many of those complaints will involve, because we know which state Representative sponsored the bill, and that gives us a pretty good idea of who wrote it. The legislator’s constituents include an organization known as the Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FLCA), and the FLCA website identifies a handful of specific targets for its efforts “to stop the indoctrination of our children.” These include not only the expected targets, like Common Core standards and “pornographic” novels, but also transgender student rights, gun control, and even social studies texts that identify the United States as a “democracy” instead of a “constitutional republic.”
The FLCA website is of course soliciting volunteers statewide to be trained to become hearing officers. Teachers of social studies, literature and language arts, and STEM subjects should be bracing themselves.