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Science textbook approved

by JOHN MORITZ on 11/10/01.

AUSTIN - The state board of education reversed course Friday, giving its seal of approval to an environmental science textbook it had rejected by a party-line vote 24 hours earlier after a contentious debate that encompassed religion and censorship.

Another science book spurned by the 15-member board Thursday was not reconsidered.

Board member Cynthia Thornton, R-Round Top, urged the panel to approve Environmental Science: How the World Works and Your Place in It after its publisher, J.M. LeBel of Dallas, agreed to revisions.

"In good faith, I'm taking the word of the TEA [Texas Education Agency] staff and Mr. LeBel," Thornton said after several other Republican members questioned whether their concerns would be satisfied.

By law, the state board can place textbooks recommended by the TEA on one of two lists. The first consists of books that meet the state's curriculum standards, the other lists those that meet half of the standards.

The board may reject recommended books only if they contain factual errors that the publishers refuse to correct. The board is prohibited from establishing content requirements for textbooks.

Local districts cannot spend state money to purchase books that are not on one of the two lists.

Board member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, one of the panel's five Democrats, favored approving both books. But she accused Republicans on the board of attempting to dictate content when they persuaded LeBel to modify his text.

"I'm sad to see that you are trying to rewrite the book on the last day," Berlanga said to Thornton.

The board finally approved Environmental Science: How the World Works and Your Place in It by a 12-3 vote, with Richard Neill, R-Fort Worth; David Bradley, R-Beaumont; and Judy Strickland, R-Plainview, dissenting.

The board made final its rejection of Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future. Bradley dismissed assertions by Berlanga and the Democrats that the GOP majority simply disagreed with the author's conclusions.

Instead, Bradley said, the book errs by saying, among other things, that suburban development "swallows up" hillside country in California. He said such developments create jobs and "quality of life."

Peggy Venable, who heads the pro-business Citizens for a Sound Economy, said the board was correct to reject the book and to persuade the publisher of the other to make the modifications.

"The board sent a powerful message to textbook publishers," Venable said.

But Samantha Smoot, who heads the Texas Freedom Network, which often clashes with Venable's group, chided the board for its action.

"The board is judging science textbooks not on academic content or factual accuracy but political ideology, plain and simple," Smoot said.

The board also adopted a nonbinding resolution supporting voluntary prayer in public schools. There was no debate and no dissent.

The issue of school prayer surfaced last month when Gov. Rick Perry participated in a patriotic rally at a middle school in Palestine that featured a local minister delivering a Christian invocation. Perry said later that it was time to overturn the 1963 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that bars school prayer because it amounts to government-sponsored religion.

Perry's likely foe in next year's election, Democrat Tony Sanchez, has endorsed allowing schoolchildren to observe a moment of silent reflection. Last month, the Supreme Court let stand a Virginia law that requires a moment of silence during the school day.

John Moritz, (512) 476-4294