Biology book sparks Arizona row
A school board in Gilbert Arizona has voted to excise or redact two pages of Campbell Biology: Concepts Connections, which has been handed out for years to students in honors biology classes at the high schools.
Why? Because the two pages – 544 and 545 – discuss sexually transmitted diseases and contraception, including mifepristone, a drug that can be used to prevent or halt a pregnancy.
Julie Smith, above, a member of the school board was among those who demanded the removal of the pages, which had been brought to her attention by her son.
She was driving her family home from church back in January when he told her about what was in the textbook.
I almost drove off the road. I’m Catholic; we do not contracept. It is a grave sin.
By including those pages in the curriculum you have violated my religious rights.
A law passed two years ago in Arizona requires schools to teach “preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption” over abortion, and the school board decided that those pages were in violation of this law – even though the Arizona Education Department, which examined the book for compliance, found that they were not.
The controversy has turned into a referendum on the 2012 law, with supporters saying the textbook content cannot be removed fast enough and opponents crying foul for any number of reasons: technical, ethical, pedagogical.
But the Gilbert school board is moving forward, trying to figure out how to remove the material in question — by way of black markers or scissors, if need be — despite resistance from parents, residents, the American Civil Liberties Union and even the district’s superintendent.
If people don’t like the law, they need to take it up with their state legislator. I don’t write the law. It’s my job to uphold it.
Others say that the school board has misinterpreted the law and that censoring the book amounts to a violation of students’ First Amendment rights – and may violate copyright law as well.
Said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona.
The answer isn’t to redact pages from a science textbook. It’s an extreme interpretation, an incorrect interpretation, and I think it sends the wrong message. More information is always going to be better.
It was at a heated meeting last month that the school board voted, 3 to 2, that the two pages had to be removed somehow. The district is also reviewing three other biology books and two anatomy books.
In all, just over 3,000 students in Gilbert’s public high schools have science books with material that could be deemed objectionable, according to district officials.
The dispute has metastasized into fiery exchanges at board meetings, rumors about secret redacting sessions, and angry confrontations in local grocery stores.
One school board member, an opponent of censoring the book, was so unnerved by the swirl of gossip about her that she felt compelled to post on Facebook that she had not been endorsed by Planned Parenthood.
Christina M Kishimoto, the schools superintendent in Gilbert, who started in the job just this summer, has found herself caught in the crossfire.
I’m constantly getting emails about so-and-so threatening this or that. The accusations are going back and forth. It’s a distraction. It’s upsetting families.