Topeka Sparks flew Tuesday as the conservative majority on the State Board of Education advanced science standards that they said provided balance, but critics said will introduce religion into the classroom and hurt Kansas students.
"If this board passes the science standards currently proposed, which place such importance on the non-acceptance of evolutionary theory, it will jeopardize the future jobs of Kansas school children," John Burch of Lawrence, an advocate of bioscience research said during the public comment period at the board meeting.
But a 6-4 majority on the board defended its decision, saying the science standards that criticize evolution give students a fair view of science.
"I hope you guys can realize it's not going to be the end of the world. I hope you will try to be more open-minded," said Kathy Martin, a Republican from Clay Center, who voted for the standards.
The standards are used in developing state tests for fourth, seventh and 10th-graders, with local schools having the final say on what's taught in their classrooms. Students will be tested on the new standards in the 2007-08 school year.
They were put together after four days of hearings in May during which conservative board members heard from advocates of Intelligent Design, which is the notion that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause because they seem well-ordered and complex.
On Tuesday, controversy erupted on a new front related to those hearings when Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, who had represented pro-evolution, mainstream scientists at the hearings, accused attorney John Calvert, who represented critics of evolution, of misrepresentation.
Irigonegaray said Calvert has never had a license to practice law in Kansas, yet Calvert called himself the counsel for the evolution critics during the hearings.
"This goes to significant issues of credibility," Irigonegaray said.
But Calvert said he did nothing wrong.
Meanwhile, after voting 6-4 to approve the standards, the board voted to send them to be reviewed by outside academics. The board is expected to give its final approval of the standards in October.
Kansas law requires the board to update its academic standards regularly, setting up this year's debate.
The changes in the standards reflect skepticism of evolutionary theory that natural chemical processes resulted in the building blocks of life, that all life has a common origin and that man and apes had common ancestors.
In 1999, the Kansas board deleted most references to evolution from the science standards, bringing international condemnation and ridicule to Kansas. Elections the next year resulted in a less conservative board, which led to the current, evolution-friendly standards. Conservative Republicans recaptured the board's majority in 2004 elections.
Battles over evolution also have occurred in recent years in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.