Arizona school board votes to remove pages from biology textbook

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 30, 2014 3:56 PM

By Daniel Wallis

(Reuters) - An Arizona school board has voted to remove information about contraception methods from a biology textbook after a conservative majority decided it fell afoul of a state law that says materials should give a preference to childbirth or adoption over abortion.

The members of the Gilbert Public Schools board, which covers at least 38 schools and 39,000 students mostly in Chandler and Mesa, voted 3-2 on Tuesday night to excise two pages from "Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections."

"By redacting, we are not censoring," board member Julie Smith told 12 News in Phoenix. "This school district does offer sexual education classes. If we were censoring, we would not offer anything on this topic whatsoever."

The question of how to teach U.S. teens about sexual health and reproduction in public schools is the latest flashpoint in a broader liberal-conservative fight over control of curricula that also flared up last month in Colorado in a fight over the content of an advanced history course.

At the center of the Arizona controversy is a part of the textbook that describes contraception techniques, including explaining how the morning-after pill works. The text also notes that abstinence is the only fail-safe birth control method.

The mention of the morning-after pill being able to "induce an abortion" prompted a Scottsdale-based legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom, to write to the Gilbert Public Schools superintendent in August saying a parent had raised concerns the text was not compliant with state legislation. Some conservative Christians believe life begins at the moment of conception.

An Arizona law signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in 2012 says that taking into account "the state's strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion," school programs must present those as the preferred options.

The alliance said the materials, which have been used in the district since 2006, present elective abortions as a viable option for students while making no mention of childbirth or adoption.

An official from the state's Department of Education said in an email to Gilbert Public Schools last month that the book did not appear on its face to violate the law.

But he said it was important for locally elected school boards to choose texts they prefer when it comes to a topic such as sex education, "where the values of parents are heavily involved."

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Editing by Peter Cooney)