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2001 Opinions

Date:   September 11, 2001
Prepared By:   Margaret O'Sullivan Parker
Phone:   (850) 488-7707
Suncom:   278-7707
Opinion No.:   01-17
Staff Contact:   Elizabeth Carrouth
MEMORANDUM OPINION
TO: Roger C. Cuevas, Superintendent
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
FROM: James A. Robinson, General Counsel
SUBJECT: Acceptance of monetary support or gifts from textbook publishers.
RE: Your letter of July 24, 2001

QUESTION PRESENTED: What is the meaning of "school official" as used in Sections 233.115 and 233.45, Florida Statutes, which prohibits the acceptance of any items of value from school textbook publishers?

CONCLUSION: For the purposes of Chapter 233 the term "school official" includes administrative and instructional personnel.

DISCUSSION: Thank you for your recent letter requesting interpretation of two provisions of law dealing with the interaction between publishers and school officials.

The provisions of Section 233, Florida Statutes, were amended significantly in 2000. However, the sections dealing with prohibited acts by publisher and school officials have not changed substantially since the late 1980's.

Section 233.115, Florida Statutes, addresses inappropriate activity in the context of the adoption or purchase of instructional materials. It prohibits a publisher or manufacturer from giving, and a school official or member of a state instructional committee from accepting "any emolument, money or other valuable thing or inducement to directly or
indirectly introduce, recommend, vote for, or otherwise influence the adoption or purchase of any instructional material." The law allows certain exceptions, such as sample copies of instructional materials.

Section 233.45, Florida Statutes, addresses employment or agent relationships between school officials. It prohibits a superintendent, school board member "or any person officially connected with the government of or direction of public schools, or teacher thereof" from receiving compensation for promoting the sale of a textbook. The prohibition only applies during the months that the person is actually performing duties under his or her contract.

"School official" is not defined in Chapter 233, nor is it contained in the definitions for the Florida School Code found in Section 228.41, Florida Statutes. The prohibition of Section 233.115, Florida Statutes, intends to remedy the improper inducement of those who are involved in the adoption or purchase of instructional materials. While certain members of district and school staff, such as an instructional coordinator or principal, may have specific duties as to textbooks purchases, it could be argued that all instructional personnel of a school in some way and to some extent have influence on textbook purchasing decisions, or themselves make individual purchases. Therefore, for the purposes of Chapter 233, we conclude that the term "school official" includes administrative and instructional personnel.

With the exception of the distribution of promotional items with a de minimis value, the situations listed in your letter would all cause concern as to the improper receipt of monies or other items flowing from publishers of instructional materials to those who have some direct or indirect involvement with the purchase and use of those materials. Even if the benefits were solicited by entities not directly associated with the school board, the school personnel would still be the recipient of monies or other items from publishers.

In addition, Part III of Chapter 112, Florida Statutes, (Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees), may apply in some situations as to the receipt of gifts or benefits.

This response is intended to provide a general overview of the provisions of Chapter 233, Florida Statutes. It may be appropriate for school district counsel to review the situations and provide specific direction as to their propriety

cc: Elizabeth Carrouth

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