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Science books rejected on factual-error claim

by JANET ELLIOTT on 11/9/01.

AUSTIN - In a bitter vote along party lines, the State Board of Education on Thursday tentatively rejected two of three high school environmental science textbooks after conservatives criticized them for presenting an extreme environmentalist view.

Board member Cynthia Thornton, R-Round Top, asked that books published by Jones and Bartlett and LeBel Publishers be rejected for factual errors. But she did not provide any examples of factual errors. Thornton said she would provide the factual errors to Texas Education Agency staff later.

During the board debate, Thornton said she was angry because representatives from the two rejected publishers had refused to meet with her about the books.

A review of the books by TEA staff and another by the science faculty of Texas A&M University found no factual errors that publishers have refused to correct.

Education Commissioner Jim Nelson said the board needed immediately to list the factual errors. A final vote on the textbooks will be taken today.

John LeBel, owner of J.M. LeBel Enterprises of Dallas, compared the debate to controversies over how biology books should address evolution. He said he would speak to his lawyers about his company's legal rights.

"It seems a contradiction that the board would vote to reject the book because of factual errors but they did not present any factual errors," said LeBel.

The conservative organization, Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, criticized LeBel's "Environmental Science" book for including the following statements in an environmental challenge box: " President Bush did not support efforts to save the earth's biodiversity. The United States was the only leading power that did not sign the biodiversity treaty in the 1992 Earth Summit. After President Bush lost his bid for reelection, President Clinton signed the biodiversity treaty."

Peggy Venable, director of the 48,000-member CSE, said the text did not mention that Congress did not ratify the treaty.

"This is a political discussion, not a discussion on environmental issues and is totally inappropriate for a science text," Venable said.

The board's 10 Republicans voted in favor of a motion to reject the textbooks, and the five Democrats opposed the motion.

Board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, said the vote was an act of censorship.

"It's not being un-American to think about the fact that we're polluting," said Berlanga. "We just cannot afford to have a narrow view at a time in our lives when we've got to be able to consider all views."

Board member Richard B. Neill, R-Fort Worth, said the vote showed that the board "cannot be blackmailed if there is not a good book out there."

The vote leaves high school environmental science courses with only one new approved textbook, "Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment" by Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. A fourth book by Prentice Hall had been considered before the publisher withdrew it.

It was the first time since 1995 that the board had rejected a textbook. The Texas Legislature, tired of repeated fights over textbooks in the early 1990s, changed the law to limit the state education board to rejecting books only for factual errors.

Many of the speakers during a heated four-hour hearing criticized the books for being anti-capitalist and anti-Christian. One book blames Christianity, democracy and industrialization for environmental degradation, speakers said.

Some of the same speakers had criticized middle-school science textbooks during a hearing in September. But CSE and the Texas Public Policy Foundation withdrew their opposition to those books after publishers agreed to correct errors and add content.

"We wanted to see a balanced presentation of legitimate debate in the scientific community, without deleting content," said Chris Patterson, education research director.

But the dispute over the high school books apparently came too late for compromises, as the state board is facing a deadline in order for the books to be ready for the 2002-2003 school year.

"Today's vote was a victory for Texas schoolchildren, and for patriotism, democracy and free enterprise," said Venable. "The sent a strong message to textbook publishers that Texas students deserve quality materials free from activist agendas."

The rejected books had been supported by the Science Teachers Association of Texas.

The Texas Freedom Network, a group that monitors the religious right, criticized the vote. Director Samantha Smoot said "this was clearly a case of extremist political ideology outweighing science."