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In the latest flap surrounding attempts to get new health textbooks into Texas high schools, a civil-liberties watchdog group has raised a ruckus about a publisher's letter to Texas school superintendents.

People for the American Way quotes David Irons, a vice president of Glencoe , as saying in the letter that his text, Glencoe Health, "does not promote a pro-homosexual lifestyle or an anti-family agenda."

The letter also purportedly states that the textbook is endorsed by several conservative Christian groups. Such groups helped persuade the state school board last year to require publishers to make more than 300 changes in high school texts if they wanted to keep them on the state list of approved materials.

One publisher, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, opted out, citing not just cost but concern that the revisions would deprive students of vital information about preventing AIDS and pregnancy.

In response to Mr. Irons, Deanna R. Duby, the director of education policy for the Washington-based People for the American Way, shot back her own letter to officials of Glencoe and its parent, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill School Publishing Company. "In attempting to sell your books, rather than offering constructive educational reasons for their use, you are continuing to disseminate these deceptive and misleading phrases that serve only to inflame and divide people," she wrote.

Helen Steblecki, a spokeswoman for Glencoe, confirmed that Mr. Irons had written the letter but could not verify its exact contents.

She said the letter was in response to newsletters being circulated around the state reporting that the four approved texts were all the same. Mr. Irons wanted to show that the Glencoe text "was a little different in its approach," she said.

Religion, too, remains a hot topic for textbooks. Despite the subject's ability to draw controversy, the American Textbook Council says publishers are improving at covering religious subjects in civics and history texts.

A forthcoming report from the New York City-based monitoring group says religious topics are covered more thoroughly than in the previous three decades.

"In major history textbooks introduced since 1990, coverage of religion has expanded, even though many passages examined remain imperfect," the council's director, Gilbert T. Sewall, writes in a recent issue of History Matters, a publication of the National Council for History Education.

--Karen Diegmueller

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