Sunday, October 13, 2002

Evolution may be hot topic, but not in school board races

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Five state school board members are in the midst of re-election campaigns as the board nears a decision on whether alternatives to evolution should be included in new curriculum guidelines.

The contentious issue is barely making a ripple in the races, even though it has divided the board and the public for 10 months.

“It has to be the most invisible election in the state,” said Jennifer Sheets, the Ohio Board of Education's president. “Even though we think there's a lot of publicity on this (evolution) issue, people still don't seem to know about it.”

The 19-member board has spent all year crafting standards for what public school students should know about science. The debate has centered on whether to include “intelligent design,” which some board members wanted to add.

The board's academic standards committee is to decide Monday if it should recommend that the full board adopt the current draft of the standards, which include evolution but not intelligent design. The full board plans to vote Tuesday on whether it intends to formally adopt the standards in December, its deadline by law.

The new board won't convene until January, meaning it won't have any say in whether to add alternatives to evolution.

Still, the issue is the main reason why at least one person is running.

In an eastern Ohio district, Carl Brand, 38, a postmaster from Canton who supports intelligent design, is one of three challenging Jim Craig, a photography studio owner from Canton.

“I'm courting the faith vote. I'm a very, very pro-I.D. person,” Mr. Brand said, calling the intelligent design concept a compromise with the faith community.

Mr. Craig, whom Gov. Bob Taft appointed in March, did not return phone messages seeking comment. He publicly has remained neutral on the issue.

Edward Radel Jr., 58, an insurance agent from Massillon also in the race, said the standards should encourage - but not require - students to examine intelligent design alongside evolution.

A third Craig challenger, Richard Wingerter, 70, a retired school teacher from Canton, said the board should listen to a majority of Ohioans who according to polls clearly want students to learn both.

But perhaps the most outspoken backer of intelligent design, Deborah Owens Fink of Richfield, isn't even opposed in her re-election bid in a northeastern Ohio district.

“Was I surprised? Yes,” said Ms. Owens Fink, a University of Akron business professor. “I thought that given my very public stance on the issue that there was a pretty good chance I'd have an opponent.”

Vocal citizen groups on both sides said they barely have paid attention to the races and have not endorsed candidates because as nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations they must remain neutral.

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