The Alabama State Department of Education's (ALSDE) Board voted Thursday to approve the K-3 English Language Arts (ELA) reading textbook recommendations from the State Textbook Committee.

In February 2022, the state education board delayed approving reading textbooks for kindergarten through third grade due to state regulations requiring that textbooks be published in the past three years, which left the Board with only one publishing company.

The Board voted to delay adopting textbooks for one year until more options were made available.

The Textbook Committee considers a wide variety of Textbooks after vetting through the state literacy task force. The Committee presents its recommendations to the State Board, which is required by state law to keep the recommendations confidential.

See also: State Board of Education to vote on K-3 English language arts textbooks next week; List kept confidential

According to State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey, the complete list of considered textbooks has been available at 14 statewide libraries, and a few were available online.

Mackey also said the confidentiality was due to the state's contract procurement process, which demands secrecy.

"If we were to leak out what was in consideration for the board — these are multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts that the governor has to sign — and that could manipulate the price of the books, and people could get into manipulating contracts and those kinds of things," Mackey said. "So that's why there is contract secrecy."

Once the Board adopts the variety of curricula, local school boards can purchase desired textbooks using state funds.

At Thursday's meeting, the Board met to vote on adopting the recommended textbooks, and several people attended to speak out against specific curricula. Only one member, Stephanie Bell from District 3, voted against adopting the Committee's recommendation.  

Tracie West, the state board member from District 2, did express "personal disappointment" that publishers did not have more reading materials that align with the state's standards in the science of reading.

"I do not believe that publishers necessarily print materials that adhere to the commonsense values that we hold in Alabama," West said. "The very family values that we raise our children with. However, we do have to adopt textbooks. I do believe it is incumbent on our local school boards, once recommendations are made, to dig in and do the work."

Bell asked State Board Vice President Dr. Wayne Reynolds, who chaired the meeting in place of Gov. Kay Ivey, if the Board could recommend the removal of one textbook, to which Reynolds responded that the entire recommendation would have to be approved or rejected.

"I am very concerned about passing through the gates textbooks that I have concerns about," Bell said. "Those concerns have been shared with me. I have also read some of the excerpts myself."

Bell was prohibited by state law from naming the textbook with which she disagreed. However, she did state it involved storytelling of Norse Mythology, which one of the public speakers against the adoption referenced in her comments. Bell said some of the stories in Amplify, a considered textbook publisher, were "really out there."

Eight people signed up to address the Board, most of whom spoke against the considered textbooks.

Julia Cleeland with Eagle Forum of Alabama was the first to address the Board, recommending a particular textbook publisher, McGraw Hill. Cleeland commended the curriculum and expressed approval of McGraw Hill for being well-written, organized and having beautiful artwork while being ethnically diverse.

Malinda Williford of Spanish Fort took umbrage with the Amplify material, especially with one illustration that involved Norse mythology, one of which reportedly included the mythical god Thor speaking in a "girlish voice" and wearing a wedding dress.

Mellissa Gates, another spokesperson with Eagle Forum, stated that the Amplify curriculum was "demonic." However, she did not give any examples from the textbooks.

"The Amplify textbooks sought to "indoctrinate our children with DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] SEL [Social and Emotional Learning], woke agenda and grooming our little ones," Gates said. "This is destroying families and our country. As elected officials, you are responsible for the curriculum for all these children in the state of Alabama. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, which I hope you are, you will be held accountable for everything you say and do, so be careful."

Mark Dixon, The President of A+ Education Partnership, an organization focused on improving public education in the state, spoke in favor of the textbook recommendations.

Dixon didn't address the comments made by the previous speakers. Instead, he highlighted the "rigorous" vetting process undergone by the literacy task force.

"As the facilitator supporting them, I can assure you 'thorough' does not begin to describe the detailed process and long days of work they have committed to this goal on your behalf," Dixon said.

The Board Voted 7-1 to approve the textbook Committee's recommendation.

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