The Alabama state school board put to rest two controversial issues Friday and also placed the Selma school system on notice that the Alabama State Department of Education is planning an intervention.
With a pair of 5-2 votes, board members approved new social studies textbooks that had sections on religion some accused of being “pro-Islam” and a new math and language arts curriculum, which is based on Alabama’s College and Career Ready standards that pull somewhat from the controversial Common Core curriculum.
“We took these matters very seriously,” state superintendent Tommy Bice said. “We listened very closely to the concerns that were voiced and were very deliberate in our efforts to appease everyone’s concerns as best we could. These standards are our standards. I personally took the time to read through each textbook and examine the portions that raised concerns. I feel comfortable with what was approved today.”
Board member Stephanie Bell, who has been an outspoken critic of Common Core, continued to raise concerns during Friday’s meeting. At one point, she tried to pin Bice down on whether Alabama would be considered “a Common Core state,” primarily indicated by a map on the Common Core website. She asked Bice repeatedly if Alabama would be colored in on that map.
After attempting to explain several times the differences between Alabama’s standards and the basic Common Core curriculum, Bice eventually replied, “I’m not sure, I don’t run that website.”
After the meeting, Bice again explained the process and the steps the state went through to demonstrate that the new standards were formed and implemented by Alabama teachers and professors, and they would be taught at the discretion of Alabama classroom teachers.
“During this process, I made not one phone call to the Department of Education or to the White House,” Bice said. “There was no federal intervention here and there won’t be. These are our standards that were formed by a group of state teachers, professors and lay people who came together. After months of work, they presented them to me and I presented them to our board.”
Fears of religious bias derailed an earlier vote on approval of new social studies textbooks.
Bice canceled a vote on the textbooks in early December when conservative groups in the state raised concerns about 12 books on the approved state list, which included more than 500 textbooks. They were concerned that the books were too pro-Islam and misrepresented some aspects of Christianity.
Specifically, the Eagle Forum and Act! For America sent letters to board members last month complaining that the books in question omitted references to Islam being spread by violence and don’t spend enough time on Christianity’s positives.
Bice said he had the textbook committee re-examine the books in question, and that he read them as well, before ultimately determining that they met state standards.
Betty Peters of Kinsey and Bell, from Montgomery, voted against approving the new books, and Bell introduced an amendment that removed the textbooks in question. That amendment failed.
“I don’t mind at all the teaching of other religions,” Bell said after the meeting. “I just want it to be presented fairly, and I don’t think these books measure up to that standard.”
The board also passed a resolution informing the Selma school system that the process of intervention into that system has now begun.
Selma has been plagued by issues in recent months and a state investigation into that system uncovered evidence of sexual misconduct and evidence of administrators pressuring teachers to make improper grade changes. A plan of action presented by the Selma school board to address the problems was deemed inadequate by Bice, resulting in Friday’s resolution for intervention.
The Selma board now has until the state school board’s next meeting on Feb. 12 to create another plan of action and present it to the board if it hopes to avoid a state takeover.