Science debate won’t affect area schools

Erin Hopkins

Students in Portage County schools will not be affected by the intelligent design debate anytime soon.

Although the Ohio Board of Education decided Feb. 14 to rework the state science standards, specifically the teaching of intelligent design, area education administrators do not think their schools will be changing any science requirements.

Intelligent design supporters believe the universe could not have been created through evolution and that a supernatural power – such as God- had to begin life on earth. This issue facing public schools was raising issues with the separation of church and state.

The board’s 11-4 decision threw out a mandate and lesson plan in the science curriculum that asked 10th-grade students to critically analyze evolution, which opponents say meant teaching intelligent design.

Marc Crail, superintendent of Kent City Schools, disagreed.

“They’ve really made a big deal about nothing,” Crail said. “(The mandate) never said we were supposed to teach intelligent design, it just said there were other options besides evolution.”

He added that the board’s decision will not change his district’s science curriculum.

“I don’t think this will affect us in any way,” Crail said. “This whole thing is kind of a non-event for our students and teachers.”

While the words “intelligent design” are not specifically mentioned in the mandate, opponents wanted the words “critical analysis” removed.

Martha Wise, a board member who supports the removal of intelligent design from science classes, said part of the board’s decision was about legal issues.

“The U. S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard case stated, in effect, that creationism (intelligent design) should not be taught in science classes in this nation,” Wise said in an e-mail interview. “If there were a case brought against the now deleted standards and lesson plan, that could have cost the state of Ohio millions of dollars in legal fees. Those dollars should be spent on educating our students in Ohio, not in the courts.”

Deborah Owens Fink, board member representing Portage County and supporter of intelligent design, said the decision had nothing to do with legalities.

“I think the reality is that the lesson has been out there for two and a half years,” Owens Fink said. “If someone thought there was a lawsuit (opportunity), they would have sued long ago. There was no religion, there was no intelligent design. That was the straw man used to bring down the lesson that never existed.”

Although the debate is getting a lot of attention, Crail thinks some of it may be unnecessary.

“People feel very strongly about this sort of thing,” he said. “But it’s almost like they’re trying to incite social war.”

Other superintendents and administrators also have decided not to change the curriculum.

Ronald Niemiec, superintendent of Windham Exempted School District, said the intelligent design issue “has never even come up in our schools.”

Jean Wittrock, curriculum consultant at Crestwood Local Schools, said the decision will not affect the district right away, but it may be an issue in the long run.

“I don’t see an immediate change,” Wittrock said. “But we’re fact-finding right now. We’re going to kind of wait and see if we need to change anything.”

Wittrock said the district’s central office was anticipating questions from concerned parents, but nothing has happened yet.

“I don’t know if they’ve gotten calls at the high-school level, but no one has called here,” she said.

According to The New York Times, in 2002, the Ohio board became the first in the United States to single out evolution for critical analysis.

The board’s decision to remove the “critical analysis” wording came after a federal judge ruled it was unconstitutional to teach intelligent design in the Dover, Penn., public school system.

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Hopkins at [email protected].