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Texas education board rejects environmental science texts

by CONNIE MABIN on 11/8/01.

The State Board of Education on Thursday rejected two environmental science textbooks 10-5 after a long, heated debate over politics, religion and the elected board's authority.

Those who supported the vote said it was because of factual errors publishers refused to correct. Opponents called the vote censorship sparked by disagreement over issues like global warming and land management.

The board, which was meeting as a committee of the whole, is scheduled to make a final vote Friday.

"I don't believe I'm censoring. I believe I'm saying there are too many factual errors in these two books," said Cynthia Thornton, R-Round Top.

Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, voted against the measure, saying, "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."

The elected board is charged with approving textbooks put on two lists. One contains books that completely meet state curriculum standards; the other has books meeting at least half, but not all of the standards. Local school districts are allowed to use state money only to purchase books on the lists.

The board has no authority over textbooks' content and can only reject books recommended by the Texas Education Agency if there are factual errors publishers have refused to correct.

In Thursday's case, TEA identified no factual errors publishers refused to correct but some board members said they did find such mistakes.

Throughout the more than five-hour debate, the disagreement over how the
middle- and high-school books described some issues dominated.

Peggy Venable, director of the conservative group Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, said some of the environmental texts "were little more than radical environmentalist workbooks and not based on sound science."

Others testified they thought the textbooks were anti-American and discriminated against Christianity by portraying it as a cause of many environmental problems.

Venable applauded the vote, calling it "a victory for Texas schoolchildren, and for patriotism, democracy and free enterprise."

Texas adopts new textbooks every six or 12 years, depending on the subject.

Several teachers urged the board to adopt the science books, saying updated material is desperately needed because of rapid changes and because the state will begin testing the subject on its tougher standardized test in 2003.

Messages were not immediately returned from the two publishers whose books were rejected, Jones and Bartlett Publishers in Saudburry, Mass. and J.M. LeBel Enterprises in Dallas.

Joe Bill Watkins of the Association of American Publishers does not represent the two publishers.

In general, the industry tries to avoid political agendas and works closely with TEA and the public to correct errors as quickly as possible, he said.

"There are obvious differences of opinion and you cannot please everybody all of the time," he said.

Texas will spend $571 million on textbooks in the next two years. The Texas market is one of the country's largest and trends are closely watched because publishing firms sell textbooks adopted in Texas to dozens of other states.

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