BY JAMES HARPER
More than 200 people have signed up on a Facebook page to participate in a protest rally at a school board meeting at 4 p.m. Nov. 18 at the DeLand Administrative Complex, 200 N. Clara Ave.
The name of the Facebook page is “Protest Rally against World History Curriculum in Volusia Public Schools.”
The protesters are upset that a chapter in a history book used in Volusia County Schools is devoted to the Islamic religion.
A line on the Facebook page set up by Rick Sarmiento and Earl Tony Ledbetter states, “We cannot allow our local, state and federal governments to take away our Christian heritage and indoctrinate our youth with that of one religion over all others. This is AMERICA for God’s sake!”
The regularly scheduled school board meeting on Nov. 5 was cancelled for security reasons after the district was contacted by the U.S. Department of Justice just prior to the board meeting was to begin at 4 p.m., said Nancy H. Wait, spokesman for Volusia County Schools.
“The nature of this information raised substantial safety concerns. Upon evaluation of this late information, the district determined that a short-term postponement would permit additional security measures are in place to ensure the safety of the students, public and employees at the meeting. While the district does not comment on security procedures, there was no specific threat of violence in this matter,” Wait Said.
Ida Wright, Volusia County Schools’ only Black school board member, told the Daytona times she agreed with canceling the Nov. 5 meeting.
“Our employees’ safety is a priority. I am going to review the textbook over the next two days,” Wright said before she would comment on the content that has upset some of the county’s residents.
Used throughout state
Tony Ledbetter, chairman of the Volusia County Republican Party, was among 100 protesters who arrived at the Nov. 5 meeting before it was canceled.
In a press release, Ledbetter said, “Citizens of Volusia County have expressed concern that the history presented in this textbook is not truthful and is biased in favor of Islam at the expense of Christianity and Judaism. Our concern is about history being taught accurately in our Volusia County Public Schools.”
The textbook Ledbetter was referring to is Prentice Hall World History.
Wait said Volusia County Schools is one of many school districts in Florida that have chosen the textbook as a primary resource for teachers to use as they ensure quality instruction on Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for World History.
Wait also noted World History was one of three state-approved textbooks that met the state’s criteria for the adoption process.
What textbook covers
A committee of Volusia County Schools Social Studies teachers selected the textbook. Volusia County Schools procedures for textbook adoption provide for public participation and viewing of the textbooks chosen by the committee before a final decision is made.
The Prentice Hall World History textbook presents coverage of the standards for world history, which require students to learn information about world religions and their relationship to the development of civilizations.
The textbook covers information related to Muslim civilization in one chapter and information about Christianity and Judaism in seven chapters.
Local NAACP President Cynthia Slater weighed in on the issue.
“If the Muslim culture is taught as a segment in history classes (like Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism), I don’t see any problems with that. Our children need to learn about racial, religious and cultural differences. I think in this day and time, we all could stand to take a lesson or two in these areas,” Slater said.
“But as far as the actual teaching of the Muslim religion in schools as a course, that is a violation of the constitution,” she added.
Wait said the Volusia school district teaches world history at grades 6 and 10.
In grade 6, the time period that is covered begins with ancient history from 1.8 million B.C. through the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. The textbook for grade 6 world history is History Alive! The Ancient World from the Teacher’s Curriculum Institute.
The textbook has two separate chapters on Judaism, one chapter on Hinduism, one chapter on Buddhism and two chapters on Christianity.
The teaching of world history in Volusia County Schools continues at grade 10 with a review of what was taught in grade 6 and then begins more in depth starting with the time period of the Middle Ages in 500 B.C. and progressing through history until the present day.
Multiple Christian references
The textbook for grade 10 is Prentice Hall World History. Christianity is referred to multiple times throughout the textbook found in sections of three chapters and referenced in seven other chapters. There is a separate chapter on Muslim civilizations that addresses the rise of Islam.
The textbook also references 10 of the world’s major religions and provides a summary of their key beliefs, including Christianity. Reference to the role of these religions in human history is referenced throughout the textbook.
Wait stressed that the textbook does not provide religious instruction or “indoctrination” on any faith.
“The United States Supreme Court has clearly held that reference to religion in public school courses is constitutionally permissible for information rather than indoctrination purposes. For example, the study of world history is incomplete without reference to the role of religion in human development,” Wait said.
The World History textbook that is being targeted, according to Wait, contains 34 chapters.
Wait said arrangements to inspect the textbook at a school district site can be arranged upon request. Because the textbook is subject to federal copyright protections, the district is unable to post the textbook online or make copies of it.
Nov. 18 meeting guidelines
In order to accommodate all those who want to speak at public participation time during the Nov. 18 school board meeting, Wait said the following guidelines have been established:
The main door to the building will open at 3 p.m. and access to the boardroom will be available at that time.
Members of the public who wish to speak to the board will fill out a yellow public participation card prior to 4:30 p.m.; no additional cards will be taken after 4:30 p.m.
The meeting will be called to order at 4 p.m. and public participation for all those who wish to speak to the board will be the first item of business on the agenda.
Speakers will be called in the order in which public participation cards are received.
Each speaker will state their name and address and be given four minutes to address the board. Board members will listen to comments.
*When the boardroom is filled to capacity (about 72 available seats), a designated waiting area will be established and speakers will be permitted to enter when their names are called.
Residents interested in discussing the textbook before the Nov. 18 school board meeting can attend a meeting being organized by some of the protesters. It will take place Nov. 14 at 921 North Nova Road in Holly Hill starting at 7 p.m. The invitation is to registered voters in Volusia County. For more information about the meeting, contact Ledbetter at 386-235-7755.