Bowing to community pressure, the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District board voted unanimously Thursday night to remove a controversial series of literature-based reading books from the elementary school curriculum, ship them back to the publisher and sue for breach of contract.
The decision, announced at a specially convened meeting before about 400 parents at Cedarlane Junior High School, drew loud applause.
"This is what we've been fighting for," said Morrey Mendrin, whose four children attend district schools. "My kids don't need to read about these things."
Board member Kenneth Manning said the decision to drop the "Impressions" series published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. reflected solely on the publisher's alleged breach of contract and had nothing to do with the quality of the texts. The district claims it reviewed and approved one edition, but was sent a more morbid and graphic edition instead.
Representatives of the publisher could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
The series has been the target of protests by a group of parents who say the books promote satanism.
But some parents who support the series Thursday accused the district of bowing to political pressure.
"It's censorship," said parent Judith Evans. "It was a bureaucratic cop-out, and the board bowed to negative pressure."
The controversy over the so-called "morbid books" began in mid-October at Hacienda La Puente schools and has since spread to other Southern California communities. School districts in East Whittier and Redondo Beach in Los Angeles County and Yucaipa, in San Bernardino County, have also grappled with whether to remove the texts.
In most districts, the debate has become hotly emotional, pitting parent against parent, educator against educator. Some parents, including many fundamentalist Christians, say the series is tainted by morbid and satanic imagery. Others say the books stimulate children's interest, prompting even indifferent students to want to read. In each case, school boards selected the books after a thorough evaluation and review.
Several districts say they are looking into whether they could resolve the controversy by exchanging the current U.S.-published edition for a later Canadian edition in which some of the more graphic and morbid passages have been expunged.
School officials maintain that they were shown and approved the Canadian version, but instead were shipped the earlier U.S. edition. The mix-up came to light when the districts investigated after parents complained in October.