Sunday, June 09, 2002

One school stands tall on expanding view of evolution

'Higher power' OK in classes as state continues debate

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — As state education officials debate whether evolution should be the only concept about life that students learn, at least one school district has taken a stand on the issue — in favor of other ideas.

        School board members in the Patrick Henry district are encouraging their science teachers to examine “intelligent design,” when they examine how life originated and changes. It's the idea that life must have been designed by a higher power because of its complexity.

        “We feel it's important for teachers to feel comfortable when questions are raised in their classrooms and to also allow students the opportunity for discussion about the theories about some creators,” said John Hall, superintendent of the 1,200-student rural district in Henry County.

        “It's a conservative area. A good many of us spend a lot of time in churches, and those beliefs are important and should be discussed in these classes,” he said.

        Diana Hunn, president of the Science Education Council of Ohio, whose members are elementary, secondary and college science teachers, called the district's encouragement disheartening.

        “That's very sad,” she said. “Intelligent design is not science, and has no place in science classrooms.”

        The state Board of Education is trying to decide whether alternatives should be included in the new guidelines outlining what students at each grade level should know about science.

        The 19-member board and its standards committee meet Monday in Columbus. The science standards are on the committee's agenda, but Tom McClain, one of its co-chairs, said he doesn't expect the committee to make a decision on the standards yet.

        A majority of members of the standards committee favor including alternatives to evolution. However, the full board, which must approve the standards by year's end, is more evenly divided.

        Warren Russell, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association, said he believes Patrick Henry is the first district publicly to take a stand on the issue.

        Mr. Hall said Patrick Henry's board unanimously approved the resolution in April because teachers in Ohio aren't encouraged to examine other viewpoints, so many feel wary of doing so.

        “We wanted to spell it out that they can do this, and we think they should do this,” he said.

        Ms. Hunn said she fears more districts will follow Patrick Henry's lead.

        Ohio doesn't bar teachers from discussing alternatives to evolution, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mandating that creationism, drawn from the Bible, be taught in public schools is unconstitutional.

        Supporters of evolution say intelligent design is creationism in disguise.

        Critics of evolution are pressing the board to soften a strong statement about evolution included in the rough drafts of the new guidelines to allow for classroom instruction on other views.


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