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Few details have been released about Florida's rejection of math textbooks due to prohibited topics

student bored at school
clare charleson/jjpixs

After a high-profile announcement Friday about rejecting math textbooks submitted for adoption by the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education are providing few details about how the books violated state academic standards.

The Department of Education on Friday said the books did not make an initial adoption list because they included “prohibited topics” or were inconsistent with state standards. The department said 54 of 132 submitted textbooks, or 41 percent, were rejected.

“Reasons for rejecting textbooks included references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics,” a news release from the department said.

But the news release, which was titled, “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students,” did not provide examples of questions or other details that would show why the books were rejected. Democrats have alleged political motivations as DeSantis tries to appeal to conservative voters.

Critical race theory is based on the premise that racism is embedded in American institutions, and has been a target of DeSantis, state legislative leaders and other Republicans across the country.

Social and emotional learning is a set of processes by which students learn to do things such as manage emotions, “feel and show empathy for others” and maintain relationships, according to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, which is funded by the U.S Department of Education.

DeSantis introduced the state’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking Standards, or BEST Standards, in 2020. The governor billed the new education guidelines as a replacement for the politically unpopular Common Core standards that were used in the past in Florida.

Textbooks for kindergarten through fifth-grade students were rejected at the highest rate, with 71 percent of materials turned away.

“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” DeSantis said in the Friday news release.

Asked Monday for specifics about how the rejected textbooks violated state standards in those three categories, DeSantis said he would like for that information to be made public but he “respects the process” that has kept the education department from releasing it.

“I would say, one, talk to the Department of Education for more background on it. What they have told me is that there is an appeal process that the textbook publishers can go through. And right now, what’s in their textbooks is considered proprietary information. So, I would be perfectly fine with doing that. That’s just not been their standard of practice. And it’s not because they don't want to release, it’s just because these are textbooks and this is how they do it,” DeSantis told reporters during an appearance in Jacksonville.

The Department of Education did not provide specifics on why the textbooks were rejected when asked Monday by The News Service of Florida. The department in an email provided information about the textbook adoption process and confirmed that textbook companies can appeal the rejections.

But the Democratic Governors Association on Monday called for the state to release information about the rejections.

“DeSantis’ silence on the specifics of his divisive and dangerous book ban makes it clear it’s just another one of his crusades to further his own political ambitions,” a news release from the association said.

Free-speech organization PEN America said the education department’s rejection of the books “raises serious concerns” about why the decisions were made.

“The Florida Department of Education’s rejection of 41 percent of math textbooks submitted to the state — including 71 percent of textbooks for grades K-5 — on the grounds that they include ‘references to critical race theory’ or ‘social emotional learning’ demonstrates how broadly ‘educational gag orders’ can be wielded against a range of educational materials, and raises serious concerns about whether these decisions are being made based on pedagogy or politics,” Jeremy Young, senior manager of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, said in a statement.

But DeSantis on Monday defended the state’s rejection of the math textbooks.

“First, it doesn’t meet the standards. But second, you know, math is about getting the right answer. And we want kids to learn to think so they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem,” the governor said.