Historians do not always agree, but they sometimes find consensus.
That was also the case as two of the most notable parents rights organizations that pressure the Duval County School Board reviewed the district’s social studies textbooks in recent weeks, but did not file a written objection.
Members from both the Moms For Liberty Duval County chapter and Public School Defenders pored over the textbooks the school district will soon purchase. A 30-day public review and objection period for social studies and science textbooks will expire Wednesday.
Leaders from both organizations say they have no objections to the social studies textbooks. The science textbooks were reviewed, but not as intensely as the social studies textbooks.
When the School Board met in January, it approved spending as much as $13 million to purchase social studies textbooks for the first time in 11 years and science textbooks for the first time since 2016.
The district expects to spend up to $10.9 million during the current fiscal year and $2.1 million for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2024.
Whether anyone else filed objections to the textbooks is unknown. Jacksonville Today requested information from Duval County Public Schools about the number of objections filed, emailed or presented to its supervisor of instructional materials. The district acknowledged the request but said it had no timeframe for when the information would be available.
Public School Defenders and the Duval County chapter of Moms For Liberty told the board last month that they would like to review the textbooks. Moms For Liberty leans conservative, while the Public School Defenders are left-leaning.
Justin Kugler is a member of the Public School Defenders advisory board. He said the group, which has a regular presence at School Board meetings, did not find any material its group deemed subversive, objectionable or inappropriate.
“The books that were selected by the district, after their review process, really do seem to represent the best that’s available given the guidelines from the stat that they have to work under,” Kugler says.
Becky Nathanson, the curriculum advisory chair for Moms For Liberty — and a 2024 Duval County School Board candidate — said the community is deep into the process because the texts have already been approved by the board. She said the curriculum review and purchase process is a reminder for parents to be more engaged with the material that is taught in schools.
“We don’t have any intent to dispute the purchase of or the adoption of them because all of the materials have been approved by the Department of Education,” Nathanson told Jacksonville Today. “We felt, in the spirit of transparency, that parents want to know what’s in the material.”
Nathanson said her group’s biggest concern was the materials available online were portions of textbooks and not the entire book. She would like to see Duval County Public Schools have digital copies of the books it purchases for its social studies and science curriculum available for parents, guardians and community stakeholders as long as they are in circulation to students.
As was the case during January’s board meeting, the two local advocacy groups had more in common than not.
One difference was the role of a “good citizen” that is discussed in the second grade social studies textbook TCi (Teacher Curriculum Institute): Social Studies Alive! K-5 Series for Florida.
The textbook provides eight teaching points that students can use to be good citizens, including: not teasing a student and reporting bullying behavior to adults; being respectful of other people’s ideas and opinions; obeying rules in their community; thinking about problems that need to be solved and research community leaders; ensure “leaders keep their promises”; work together with others; help solve problems as well as care for their community.
Late Sunday, the Moms for Liberty Duval Chapter shared a tweet with a screenshot from the second grade social studies textbook and wrote that the curriculum aims to turn young children into activists.
Nathanson said the portion of that module that encourages students to ensure leaders keep their promises and research their community leaders is not appropriate for a 7-year-old.
“In social studies and in history, we should be laying the foundation of citizenship and the institutions and the ideals of our country and what makes us a good nation. As they get older and educated and really understand issues and understand government, they can send emails. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a second grader to be taught to email leaders.”
History can be interpreted in different ways. That has been at the crux of the disagreement between the conservative parents and citizens groups that speak before the board and those that profess to lean more toward civil rights and justice.
“For us, we wanted to be sure that people had equal access to review the materials and no one was being given preferential treatment,” Kugler said. “The work the district did itself we thought was fine.”