If you're a science teacher in the state of Florida, your job may have just become a bit more complicated. Thanks to a new law which went into effect this week, passed by the state's Republican-controlled legislature and subsequently signed by Governor Rick Scott, anyone in Florida can now challenge the science teachings of schools in their counties, regardless of whether they even have children who attend the schools in question.
Here's the basic idea: as detailed by The Washington Post's Sarah Kaplan, the law mandates that all Florida public schools hire an "unbiased hearing officer" to preside over complaints and challenges from the public on any particular area of teaching. It's not specifically geared towards challenging science classes, to be clear ― such a challenge could be theoretically be presented against any area of teaching in any subject, and the hypothetical examples given by the state focus on things like pornographic or age-inappropriate content.
But the law is generating particular concern and controversy for what it could mean for science education in the state. Thanks in large part to the sharp political polarization of the American public, and the increasing politicization of well-documented and well-understood science, it's entirely possible ― and even likely ― that topics like climate change could be challenged, or the theory of evolution.
Of all the possible states in which this could happen, Florida students potentially losing out on climate change education is a particular problem, as the state figures to be as severely impacted by the effects of rising sea levels as any in the country.
In fact, increased flooding in coastal hotspots like Miami has already shown some residents of the Sunshine State exactly what can happen when environmental science is ignored or neglected. It's believed that Miami could see nearly two feet of sea level rise by 2060, an increase which could have disastrous effects for residences and business along the coast, forcing the city's population further inland.
While the new law does not explicitly single out climate change lessons as a target, the Florida government does has a reported history of climate change denial. According to The Miami Herald, when Scott took office back in 2011, an unwritten ban on using the words "climate change" was imposed on state agencies, although a spokesperson for Scott denied the state had any policy on the matter.
Of course, it's not as if the public gets to decide these questions directly. Anyone who objects to what a science class is teaching has to petition the aforementioned "unbiased hearing officer," and it's that person that makes the call. As such, those officers figure to have a tremendous amount of power vested in their judgment, able to determine what knowledge Florida children will be allowed to receive.