Education board rejects environmental science text, approves another

The State Board of Education on Friday rejected one environmental science textbook and approved another the panel earlier rejected after the publisher agreed to correct errors.

The final vote to block “Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future ” from Texas classrooms came after two days of heated debate. The vote was divided along party lines – 10 Republicans voted to reject, five Democrats voted not to.

Critics of the book said it contained factual errors that the publisher refused to correct. The publisher denied that claim, saying the book was rejected for political reasons.

“Today’s vote is a victory for the schoolchildren of Texas, thanks to the citizens who spent countless hours reviewing textbooks,” said Peggy Venable, director of the conservative group Citizens for a Sound Economy.

The group led the charge against three middle- and high-school environmental science books, saying the texts contained various errors and political and religious bias.

Under law, the elected State Board of Education can only reject books recommended by the Texas Education Agency if there are factual errors. The board cannot consider the book’s content.

The agency had identified no errors in the book when it recommended it to the board.

Those who voted for the book said some members were opposed to it not because of mistakes but because they disagreed with the way the author portrayed issues like global warming and land management.

“You have your own interpretation of factual,” said Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi.

She and other proponents said schools should be given a choice of several textbooks and that students should have the opportunity to read about and debate varying views in the subject where there are many.

The book’s publisher, Jones & Bartlett Publishers of Sudbury, Mass., acknowledged the book gives a certain perspective about environmental problems but said it encourages students to make up their own minds.

“This book does not contain errors of fact,” said Michael Stranz, editor-in-chief. “The board of education is placing their own personal bias on this.”

Though some members suggested the matter may end up in court, Stranz said he had not considered a lawsuit.

Texas Freedom Network, an education watchdog group, called the rejection censorship.

“By banning these textbooks for not echoing their own political philosophy, the State Board of Education has apparently confused science with civics,” said Samantha Smoot, executive director of Texas Freedom Network.

Also Friday, on the recommendation of Cynthia Thornton, R-Round Top, the board 10-5 approved “Environmental Science: How the World Works and Your Place in It” after publisher J.M. LeBel Enterprises of Dallas agreed to address concerns pointed out by some board members and others. The board rejected the book Thursday.

Friday’s actions mean no book will be available for advanced placement environmental science courses since the Jones & Bartlett book was the only candidate.

“I just feel like we have left the children out of the equation when we did not select any textbook for the advanced placement program,” said Alma Allen, D-Houston. “A textbook is better than no textbook at all.”

Education Commissioner Jim Nelson said the agency could approve waivers allowing schools to use state money to buy environmental science books of their choice since none are recommended by the state.

The controversy prompted Chase Untermeyer, R-Houston, to propose a review of the textbook adoption process.

“There has to be a smarter way to deal with the discussion of errors,” said Untermeyer, who suggested meetings be scheduled with the board, publishers, the education agency and others to discuss improving the process.

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