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Publisher to replace faulted textbooks at no cost to Va. schools

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The publisher of textbooks found to contain dozens of errors has announced that it will replace thousands of copies of the texts in Virginia elementary and middle schools at no cost to the districts.

Lou Scolnik, the owner of Five Ponds Press, wrote Sunday in an e-mail to the Virginia Department of Education that he would review each error in “Our Virginia, Past and Present” and “Our America to 1865” by Jan. 21. He said that a Virginia historian, whom Scolnik did not name, is assisting in the review process.

“We strive to provide high quality textbooks for Virginia students and are embarrassed that we failed to detect these mistakes during our production process,” Scolnik wrote in a notice on the company’s Web site. “However, we hope that replacing the books will meet educators’ and students’ needs.”

The company will supply corrected editions this summer to school districts across the state.

Scolnik declined interview requests Monday.

Last week, Fairfax County public schools announced that they would remove “Our Virginia” from classrooms and replace it with supplemental materials, including a number of online resources. The new editions will go to Fairfax; Loudoun, where the textbook was pulled in October; and Arlington, where the book has remained in use.

The Washington Post reported in October that “Our Virginia,” a fourth-grade textbook, included a controversial assertion that thousands of African American soldiers fought for the South during the Civil War. The assertion is often made by Confederate heritage groups but is rejected by most historians.

In December, a state-appointed panel of historians found dozens of additional errors in both “Our Virginia” and “Our America,” which is used by students in the fifth and sixth grades in some Virginia districts. The book wrongly asserted, for example, that the Confederacy included 12 states instead of 11 and that the United States entered World War I in 1916 rather than 1917.

The books published by Five Ponds Press, based in Weston, Conn., were written by Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian. Other titles by her include “Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty” and “Oh, Yikes! History’s Grossest, Wackiest Moments.”

“We value our relationship with you and hope that receiving replacement books free of charge will meet with your satisfaction and help show how serious we are about providing high quality textbooks for Virginia students,” Scolnik’s e-mail to state officials said.

Since the book’s list of errors came to light, the Virginia Department of Education has announced plans to revamp its textbook adoption process, and Del. David L. Englin (D-Alexandria) introduced legislation that would require publishers to vet textbooks with independent experts before submitting them to the state.

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