Health Textbooks In Tex. Attacked From Both Sides

By Debra Viadero — February 23, 1994 4 min read

Drawing criticism from all sides, the Texas state board of education has ordered publishers to make more than 300 changes in five newly adopted high school health textbooks.

The revisions, which could have implications for the textbook market nationwide, are aimed primarily at putting greater emphasis on abstinence as a means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies.

The changes also call for deleting numbers for AIDS hot lines, removing some illustrations of human sexual organs, and revising discussions of assisted suicide and homosexuality.

Health and family-planning advocates in the state accused the board of succumbing to political pressure from conservative Christian groups. The advocates warned that the changes would limit teenagers’ access to vital health information.

But groups that had sought the changes said they still were not satisfied. They plan to bring their battle to the legislature, which will decide next year whether to provide the $7.5 million needed to pay for the books.

“The media here say we didn’t satisfy either extreme,’' said Will Davis, the board’s vice chairman. “I feel like that’s a victory.’'

“We called for books that were very explicit, very fact-based, and very open, and the publishers responded properly,’' he said.

Texas and California are the largest of the 22 states that adopt textbooks at the state level. Textbooks sold in those states are generally sold nationwide.

But Joe Bill Watkins, the lawyer who represented the publishers, said there were so many changes they may consider creating a separate edition for Texas.

Focus on Condoms Deplored

Although the new textbooks are not scheduled to be used in classrooms until 1995, controversy over them began last year, when state textbook-review panels began to hold hearings on the books.

“I felt like they promoted a homosexual lifestyle in the books, and we don’t need to be doing that,’' said Monte Hasie, a member of the state board who initially opposed the books outright, but later lobbied for changes.

“I also think they promoted a condom-based sex education that is basically saying, ‘If you use a condom, sex is all right,’'' he said.

The board eventually asked the state education department to consider more than 1,000 revisions or deletions to the books. Most of those came from Mr. Hasie and two other board members known for their conservative views.

They wanted, for example, to delete illustrations of breast and testicular self-examinations and to remove references to homosexuality among teenagers.

From that list, Commissioner of Education Lionel R. Meno reviewed between 500 and 600 suggestions and formally recommended to the board that it take some action on most of them.

Mr. Meno favored, for example, removing from student editions nongovernmental hot-line numbers for information on sexually transmitted diseases. And he suggested deleting some illustrations, such as one that depicted a condom being placed on an erect penis, and replacing others with less explicit line drawings.

At its meeting this month, the board adopted more than 300 of the commissioner’s recommendations. Mr. Davis said the changes fell under five broad areas: “sexuality; sexually transmitted diseases; hot-line numbers to nongovernmental entities; assisted suicide; and behaviors representing violations of state laws, such as sodomy or statutory rape.’'

Approving or Editing?

The changes “took out a lot of materials that we think are relevant to the health, safety, and well-being of Texas children,’' said Peggy Romberg, the executive director of Texas Family Planning Association.

Ms. Romberg pointed out, for example, that one of the books said condoms were successful between 88 percent and 98 percent of the time--statistics cited by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The board opted to include only the lower figure.

Jeffrey Fisher, the executive director of the American Family Association of Texas, said his group has lingering concerns because some of the books invite debate on issues such as children divorcing parents, needle-exchange programs, and legalizing marijuana.

Both sides agree, though, on one point: The board “edited’’ the books, rather than simply approve or disapprove them.

In that regard, Mr. Fisher said, the board may have overstepped its statutory authority. His group is exploring whether it can legally challenge the adoption.

“I don’t think there’s any question we will fight this in the legislature,’' he added.

Implications Uncertain

The five publishers in the thick of the controversy--Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; D.C. Heath; Glencoe; Prentice Hall; and West Educational Publishers--are still debating their next move.

“The real implications of it are sort of unknown right now,’' said William Talkington, the president of Holt, Rinehart. The options for his company, he said, include withdrawing from the adoption, producing a separate edition for Texas, or trying to sell the same edition elsewhere.

Other publishers, such as D.C. Heath, said they plan to stay in the process.

“This has created a lot of uncertainty about when this might end,’' Mr. Watkins said. “If some of these critics had their way, there would be no mention of some of these issues at all.’'

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 1994 edition of Education Week as Health Textbooks In Tex. Attacked From Both Sides