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Archive for Thursday, August 12, 1999

CREATIONISTS REIGN ON EVOLUTION

August 12, 1999

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— The Kansas State Board of Education wrangled with science, religion and politics before adopting standards that don't require evolution to be taught in the state's 304 public school districts.

Harold Voth showed his cards at high noon Wednesday, handing victory to five other Kansas State Board of Education members who long sought to downplay teaching of evolution in Kansas public schools.

The Haven moderate and swing vote on the board concluded a two-hour debate by siding with conservative board members to pass an amended version of science teaching standards written by a 27-member committee of educators.

That 6-4 vote broke the board's deadlock about what the state's schoolchildren ought to know about science -- especially evolution -- at each grade level.

About 100 people attended the tense meeting, which attracted national attention.

"I hope we can walk away from here as friends," Voth said.

That's unlikely, given reaction from the governor and co-chairs of the committee that drafted the set of science standards heavily amended by the board.

"This is a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that did not exist," Gov. Bill Graves said.

Committee co-chair Loren Lutes, Elkhart schools superintendent, said a majority of board members chose to place personal religious conviction above public education quality.

"They have no basis for their changes other than their own belief system," Lutes said.

The other co-chair, John Staver, a Kansas State University professor, said the board's decision to allow local districts to decide whether teachers deal with evolution could undermine the state's uniform assessment of students. Students in districts where evolution instruction is abolished will be unfairly disadvantaged when tested on science knowledge, he said.

Students are scheduled to be tested for the first time under the new science standards in spring 2001.

However, Washington-based advocacy groups People for the American Way and Americans United for Separation of Church and State raised the prospect of court challenges to the state board's evolution-free standards.

Debate was 'healthy'

Board chair Linda Holloway of Shawnee, who was part of the six-vote majority, said the state's long debate about science standards was "healthy." She said everyone on the board was driven by the desire to educate children.

"Sometimes we disagree how we get there," she said.

Supporters of the new standards were Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, Mary Douglass Brown of Wichita, Scott Hill of Abilene, John Bacon of Olathe, Voth and Holloway.

Opponents: Bill Wagnon of Topeka, Val DeFever of Independence, Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kan., and Sonny Rundell of Syracuse.

After the vote, Brown half-jokingly challenged Graves to a debate about whether he had apes in his family tree.

"I hope the governor has the courage of his convictions," Brown said.

"Whatever," Mike Matson, the governor's spokesman, said when told of the debate offer. He said Graves would ignore Brown's challenge.

No 'censoring'

Bacon, who represents Lawrence on the state board, said the intent of conservatives was to establish a framework that allowed the state's school districts to decide whether evolution, creationism or other theories ought to be presented to students.

"We're not censoring the classroom," Bacon said.

Wagnon and Waugh spent more than an hour questioning Hill and Abrams about specific amendments to standards drafted by a team of educators.

Wagnon said replacing standards passed in 1995 with the new set would result in "expectations that are, in fact, dumbed down."

Waugh said it was unlikely Board of Education staff would create science assessment tests for spring 2001 that included items on evolution because the standards now say so little on the topic. The set of standards written by the 27-member committee would have required 10th-graders to be tested on evolution.

"I can't believe we would test anything that's optional," Waugh said.

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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