Furious about the chemical industry’s footprint in a state-sponsored environment curriculum, a librarian at Santa Cruz High School has started a petition to have the industry’s influence removed.
As of this morning, Veronica Zaleha had garnered nearly 24,000 signatures on the social networking platform Change.org. She’s had it up only since Wednesday.
She started the petition in response to a California Watch investigation that showed the chemical industry’s trade group, the American Chemistry Council, had successfully inserted edits and additions about the benefits of plastic shopping bags into an 11th-grade environmental textbook.
The suggested changes were submitted by the trade group during a public comment period in 2009. A private consultant hired by the state to develop and edit the curriculum inserted the changes, almost verbatim, into the text.
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There is now a section in the teachers' edition of the text titled, "The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags,” and a five-point question in a student workbook asking students to list the advantages.
“The recent insertion of pro-plastic bag text into California’s state curriculum by the American Chemistry Council … is absolutely inexcusable,” Zaleha wrote on the Change.org website. “Industry lobbyists have no business editing state curricula, especially when the information encourages poor environmental practice and is disputed by factual evidence.”
Earlier this month, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Tom Torlakson, issued a statement calling for an investigation into the curriculum changes. And state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, author of a bill in 2003 calling for statewide environmental education, is asking for the California Environmental Protection Agency to “tweak” the text.
The American Chemistry Council issued its own response [PDF], saying it did nothing wrong by posting suggested changes during a period when the state solicited public comment.
“The purpose of our comments was to correct factual inaccuracies and to present a more complete view of plastic bags’ environmental attributes, including their benefits, which were absent from the draft,” it stated.
Zaleha said she was “fed up with the corporatization of education” and was distressed that the trade group was able to influence information taught to children in a public school setting.
“I feel like it’s really difficult for schools right now," she said. "Our budgets are cut and have been slashed. We’re in survival mode. I’d hate to see that taken advantage of by corporations with special interests.”
Cal/EPA did not respond to a request for comment. However, agency officials posted a statement defending the chapter and the changes on its website Friday afternoon.