Archive for Wednesday, October 13, 1999

LAWYER TO SORT OUT LEAGAL ISSUES OF SCIENCE STANDARDS

October 13, 1999

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— The state's education commissioner will try to rewrite science testing standards to avoid potential copyright-infringement claims by three national science organizations.

Andy Tompkins has had better days as state education commissioner.

Tuesday, the Kansas State Board of Education gave him the unenviable task of rewriting the state's new science standards to avoid legal problems that could emerge as a result of copyright infringement claims.

"When you get more into the technical aspects, the critical issues, that makes it necessary to work with an attorney," Tompkins said.

Three national science groups last month refused to let the state board use their copyrighted materials because of the board's controversial vote to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution in public schools.

The board voted 7-3 to have Tompkins craft proposed changes to the 94-page document outlining the science standards. Tompkins must massage more than 130 passages while retaining the substance of each. That could take two months, he said.

Board member John Bacon, whose district includes Lawrence, voted for the controversial new science standards. He said the board could face litigation regardless how well Tompkins does the rewrite job.

"There is no way we can guarantee we won't be sued," Bacon said.

In August, the board voted 6-4 to adopt the new science standards. The rewriting shouldn't postpone introduction of revised statewide science tests in spring 2001, Tompkins said.

Board member Bill Wagnon of Topeka joined with the six supporters of the new standards to instruct Tompkins to sort out the legal issues. Wagnon said the 10 board members were incapable of doing the job themselves.

Wagnon said his opposition to the science standards is unabated. He said it was a disservice to Kansas students to omit much of evolution as a subject for statewide testing, including the theory that man and apes evolved from a common ancestor.

"It represents a mutation," Wagnon said. "You can take the word 'not' out of the 10 Commandments. Ninety percent of the words would be there. But the meaning wouldn't."

The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science denied the state use of the materials because, they said, their goal of advancing science education doesn't jibe with Kansas' new standards.

The cost of performing the rewriting in-house at the Education Department was estimated at $3,000.

Mary Douglass Brown, a Wichita board member who voted in favor of the state's new approach to science education, said cost shouldn't be an issue in the quest to write standards that reflect the quality public education she wants Kansas children to acquire.

"Whatever it costs, we're going to have to spend it," she said.

An opponent of the new standards, board member Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kan., said it was irritating to devote part of the budget to this project in a year that Gov. Bill Graves called for a 1 percent spending reduction.

"I have a real problem wasting the taxpayers' dollars," Waugh said.

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

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