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Saturday, November 06, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Texas picks textbooks that stress abstinence

By Terrence Stutz
The Dallas Morning News

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AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Board of Education yesterday adopted new health textbooks that promote traditional marriage and sexual abstinence while providing scant information about condoms, contraception and other sensitive sex-related topics.

Critics railed against the new high-school texts, saying they will be of little use to teenagers who need advice on avoiding unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Texas leads the nation in teenage births.

But most board members said they preferred the overriding emphasis on abstinence and don't believe it necessary for textbooks to present comprehensive information on condoms and other forms of contraception.

Publishers also gave in to last-minute pressure from some board members to clearly define marriage as a "lifelong union" between a man and woman, and eliminate words that could suggest same-sex civil unions, such as "partners" and "couples."

The more striking changes suggested by social conservatives — including language that said homosexuals are more likely to use illegal drugs and commit suicide — were rejected by publishers.

Democrats on the board accused Republicans of being "paranoid," but they were outvoted by the GOP majority.

Several groups charged that the textbooks failed to meet state curriculum standards.

"The very sad news is these books contain absolutely no information about family planning or disease prevention," said Samantha Smoot, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which often spars with social conservatives on education issues.

Textbook selection in Texas is closely watched because the state is the second-largest purchaser of school books and the largest state that approves specific books for all grade levels. Books adopted in Texas generally are marketed to schools in dozens of other states.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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