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State agency looks at plastic industry's influence on textbook

September 8, 2011 2:01:22 PM PDT
The state agency charged with developing and editing a new environmental curriculum for California's schoolchildren said it will conduct a review of a textbook chapter on plastic shopping bags that includes suggested edits and additions from the plastics industry.

In a letter to Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, a California Environmental Protection Agency spokesman wrote, "There is sufficient reason to initiate a review of the lesson in question."

The letter came in response to an Aug. 18 letter penned by Pavley asking the agency to change the chapter.

Her letter was prompted by a California Watch investigation that showed a private consultant, hired by the state to develop and edit the curriculum, had incorporated edits and additions suggested by the American Chemistry Council. The chemistry council is a trade group representing the chemical industry and plastic shopping bag producers.

In her letter, Pavley said many of the consultant's edits in the 11th-grade textbook were factually incorrect or misleading. She requested that Cal/EPA and the State Board of Education "consider minor changes."

Pavley was instrumental in writing a 2003 law that required environmental concepts and principles be incorporated in the state's schools.

Referring to a section in the teachers' edition called "The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags," Pavley wrote the chapter "offers a false choice between paper and plastic bags." The section was added at the trade group's suggestion.

She also took exception to a question that was added to a student workbook, which prompts students to list the advantages of plastic bags or lose five points in the lesson.

"The question should be more open ended and not encourage a specific outcome and response from students," wrote Pavley, who was a teacher for 30 years before running for public office.

"California Watch's investigation revealed some very questionable edits to the plastic bag section," said Pavley. "I'm pleased the CalEPA and Department of Education recognize the need to initiate such a review and I'm confident inaccuracies in an otherwise stellar curriculum will be corrected."

In a letter dated Sept. 1, Bryan Ehlers, Cal/EPA's assistant secretary for education and quality programs, wrote to Pavley, acknowledging her concerns and promising a review.

"To this end, we have contacted our partners at the California Department of Education and the State Board of Education," Ehlers wrote. "...We are developing a process for review of concerns and complaints that we will be enacting in the immediate future."

Officials from Cal/EPA did not respond to requests for further comment.

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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