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Drop 'Impressions' Reading Series, Parents Say : Education: A Redondo Beach parents group joins a growing national movement against the controversial grade-school texts.

December 17, 1989|SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of Redondo Beach parents last week joined a national campaign against a set of grade-school reading books, asking the school board to shelve the "Impressions" readers--the basic reading text in the district's elementary schools.

The request, made Tuesday by about 100 parents before a packed meeting of the Redondo Beach City School District trustees, was the latest salvo in a war on the books that has been backed in various school districts nationwide by fundamentalist Christians and others who say the stories in them are satanic and immoral.

"Our kids deserve the best," parent John Ryan told the board, "but what they're getting instead are books . . . that are filled with violence, morbidity, cultic practices and disrespect for parents and other authorities."

The texts--including a poem about excrement-eating pigs in the fifth-grade reader and a chapter on sorcery in the fourth-grade book--were recently included in an anti-New Age sermon at Ryan's church, the Hope Chapel-Hermosa Beach. Delivered by Associate Pastor Mark Weber, the sermon was titled "Exposing the Works of Darkness."

Board members listened but did not vote on the request, which was not scheduled for action, and district Supt. Nick Parras said he intends only to forward to the state Department of Education the formal complaints filed by some parents.

However, the parents, three-quarters of whom are members of local branches of Hope Chapel, said they plan to take advantage of district policies that permit them to demand a vote by the board, if Parras does not withdraw the texts.

The "Impressions" series has stirred a dispute in more than half a dozen California school districts, including the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, where it was dropped, and the East Whittier School District, which was dismayed when the publisher--Holt, Rinehart & Winston of Canada Ltd., a subsidiary of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich--sent the U.S. version of the series instead of the toned-down Canadian version.

The latter scenario was played out in Lawndale as well, when district officials who had ordered the Canadian texts ended up with the U.S. versions for their fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade readers. After studying the books, the district decided the fourth- and sixth-grade readers were acceptable, said Supt. James L. Waters. But the fifth-graders are using an alternate text, pending state approval and receipt of the book's Canadian version, Waters said.

The pig poem and other controversial material has been deleted from the Canadian version.

The Redondo Beach school board had tried to preempt the controversy early last month by shelving the fifth-grade text after the Hacienda La Puente complaints made headlines. Included in the book were such poems as "The Lake," which tells of pigs that live on body wastes and garbage but have acquired "a taste for flesh," and "He's Behind Yer," a poem about a monster that bites off a child's head.

But within weeks, complaints began to surface about the fourth-grade text, particularly after Ryan and his wife, Diane, discussed the matter with Weber, their minister.

Weber said that when he read an assignment in the fourth-grade workbook chapter suggesting that the pupils follow up on a chapter on fairy tales by trying to cast their own spells, he decided to include the book in his Sunday sermon. The sermon, he said, was based on Deuteronomy 18:10-12, which holds that anyone who practices witchcraft is "detestable to the Lord."

At the end of the sermon, Weber said, he suggested that anyone interested in protesting the workbook contact the Ryans. Since then, the couple has organized the "Coalition of Concerned Parents" as a vehicle for protesting the series, and at the Tuesday meeting, they circulated a petition demanding that the readers be eliminated completely from the city schools.

Supt. Parras said the Ryans' child is not using the fourth-grade text. The child has been given alternate reading assignments under a school policy permitting a text change for any parents who object to classroom materials.

But Ryan said he believes "most people would be offended" by the books if they read them closely.

"This is not censorship--this is selection," he told the board. "Holt can publish whatever they want, but we don't have to buy it."

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