Home News Group sues Indian River schools to have social studies books removed, review process redone

Group sues Indian River schools to have social studies books removed, review process redone

Group sues Indian River schools to have social studies books removed, review process redone

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A conservative education advocacy group wants the courts to temporarily remove all the school district’s social studies books adopted in 2016, pending the outcome of a lawsuit alleging the Sunshine Law was broken when the books were adopted.

The Florida Citizens Alliance, which sued the district in December alleging Sunshine Law violations involving a textbook-selection committee, filed its request for a temporary injunction Monday in Circuit Court.

The school district, for its part, wants the case dismissed, saying the lawsuit is a moot issue, since districts statewide already are reviewing textbooks for the 2023-2024 school year.

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The lawsuit claims the district’s textbook-selection committee held closed meetings between 2016 and 2017 before recommending social studies textbooks to the School Board. The lawsuit claims the public was not told when the committee would meet or allowed to participate in the process.

Indian River County School District's administrative building, the J.A. Thompson Administrative Center, is next to Storm Grove Middle School on 57th Street in Vero Beach.  The building is seen Dec. 18, 2015.

The district claims the lawsuit lacks facts or evidence of the board’s “rubber-stamping” of the committee findings. The textbooks have been in use since adoption, and no questions have been raised about the issue until the lawsuit, district attorneys said in its response filed Feb. 16.

In 2017, the Florida Citizens Alliance sued the Collier County School District over its textbook adoption process. The Second District Court of Appeals last year agreed with the alliance, giving the Collier County district 90 days to either remove the social studies textbooks or redo the process, records show.

“After the conclusion of this case, which set an important legal precedent, (the alliance) began investigating other school districts and learned Indian River also violated the Sunshine Law,” the group’s attorney Brantley Oakey said in an email. “When this was brought to their attention, the Indian River School Board refused to take any curative action. This lawsuit ensued.”

The group has filed a similar lawsuit in Sarasota County, Oakey said. “Others may be filed in the future to bring accountability and transparency to Florida’s school districts,” he said.

Meanwhile, school districts across the state currently are involved in adopting social studies textbooks for 2024. The Florida Citizens Alliance last month asked the state Department of Education to reject 28 of the 38 proposed 2023-2024 textbooks because of concerns the textbooks contained critical race theory and bias, according to the group’s website. An additional eight textbooks were rejected by the group because they “required substantive changes to be factually correct,” the website said. Two of the proposed textbooks were considered acceptable.

A second component of the Florida Citizens Alliance lawsuit claims the Indian River district broke the Sunshine Law last year when reviewing 156 books challenged by parent-advocacy group Moms for Liberty. The Florida Citizens Alliance wants the courts to order the process redone, ensuring public notice of committee meetings and parent participation in the process.

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