Update News

January 09, 1991 2 min read

A group of parents in Willard, Ohio, has filed a federal lawsuit against school officials in an effort to force them to drop a widely used reading-textbook series that has been the target of attacks by parents and conservative religious groups across the country.

The lawsuit, filed in late November in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, takes issue with the Impressions reading series, a literature-based series published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston for elementary students. Now in use by 1,500 school districts nationwide, critics have claimed that the series is morbid, violent, and laced with references to the occult. State education boards in Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Mississippi last year rejected the series for statewide adoption. (See Education Week, Oct. 10, 1990.)

The six parents who filed the suit against Willard school officials claim that using the books in school violates the constitutional ban against government establishment of religion because the books promote the “religion” of witchcraft.

They also maintain that, because suggested lesson plans accompanying the books ask students to make up a “spell” for world peace, the students’ rights to free ex6ercise of religion are being violated.

And, in a departure from previous textbook challenges, the plaintiffs are seeking $1 million in punitive damages and $160,000 in compensatory damages against the board and school superintendent.

“It’s frankly intimidating for school boards to be sued for such a large amount simply for choosing school books,” said Elliot Mincberg, a lawyer for People for the American Way, a national civil-liberties group representing the school district. The parents are being represented by the American Family Association Law Center, a fundamentalist Christian group.

No trial date has yet been set.

Massachusetts’ education commissioner has decided to restore nearly $1 million in federal special-education funds withheld from the Boston public schools since July.

Harold Raynolds Jr., the state’s commissioner of education, wrote in a letter to Boston’s acting superintendent that he was releasing the funds because the district had made “impressive” progress over the past few months toward complying with a federal court order governing the provision of special-education services to the city’s public-school students.

Mr. Raynolds withheld the funds in July after a report by a court-appointed monitor charged that the school system had failed to meet the terms of the court order in two key areas: the prompt provision of transportation services to students transferring to new special-education programs, and the translation of individualized education plans for non-English-speaking families of disabled students. It was the second consecutive year that funds had been withheld from the district for that reason. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

In recent months, however, Boston school officials began to meet the 20-day limit for providing transportation services to disabled transfer students in more than 85 percent of the cases. City school officials also have promptly translated education plans for parents more than 95 percent of the time, Mr. Raynolds said.