The Springboro school board will continue its consideration of introducing creationism into local classrooms — a move that would set an area precedent — according to a Dayton Daily News survey.
The controversial topics policy, which includes creationism, is on the school board’s meeting agenda for Tuesday, but it is unclear whether the policy will be discussed or go back to a board committee for more discussion.
Most Ohio school districts have policies regarding the treatment of controversial issues, but a survey of area districts by the Dayton Daily News found none of the districts surveyed named creationism among issues specifically identified in their policies.
The survey showed school districts in Springboro, Oakwood, Kettering and Vandalia-Butler have practically identical controversial issue policies. Other districts, including Centerville, Dayton and Huber Heights, have nearly identical controversial issue policies. The Beavercreek district sets policy in a section headed “Selection of Instruction Resources.”
The debate about teaching creation along with evolution has been debated or litigated in states including Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kansas, New Hampshire and Texas. In February, Colorado lawmakers rejected a bill that would have enabled teachers to introduce creationism and climate change in public schools.
Teachers already are mixing the two in some classrooms, according to a national study.
In January, a study of 900 biology teachers by the University of Minnesota and published in the journal Science, found only 28 percent of biology teachers focused entirely on evolution, as recommended by the National Research Council, while 13 percent advocated for creationism and devoted classtime to its study.
Ohio law and school standards call for evolution.
“Schools may teach about religion, but they may not practice religion,” said Hollie Reedy, legal counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association said. “Currently, though, Ohio’s science standards teach evolution.”
Return to creationism
For the second time in two years, the Springboro board proposed inserting creationism into the local schools classrooms.
Parents, teachers and residents crowded the board room in opposition on May 23, and some board members called for creationism to be cut from the district’s controversial issue policy.
But board president Kelly Kohls said the implementation of the policy is still “a long ways away.”
“The curriculum should be set by the community, and I don’t mean just a handful of people,” Kohls said. “This needs to be given plenty of time. We’re inviting discussion and dialogue on the policy. It doesn’t hurt to have controversy or dialogue. It’s a benefit.”
The current proposal calls for creationism to be one of a series of controversial topics also including evolution, legalization of drugs, pro-life/abortion, contraception/abstinence, gun rights, global warming, climate change and sustainable development appropriate for discussion at school.
At last week’s board meeting, a series of comments accusing the board of focusing on controversial issues, rather than education, were made .
“I agree with you 100 percent,” board member Wendy Kull said during the meeting, which went on for four hours.
Board Member Don Miller said he would oppose the policy unless “lightning-rod” issues such as creationism were cut. Kohls and Jim Rigano said during the meeting they felt the proposal at least deserved a public discussion.
Rather than advocating a position, they said including creationism would improve overall discussions.
“We want to allow people to talk about it in the classroom,” Kohls said.
Rigano said in a statement read during the meeting that his interest in including creationism was sparked by a return to interpretations of the U.S. Constitution favored by groups such as the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS).
Another proposed policy change would include materials from the Idaho-based NCCS, as well as the Institute for the Constitution and Hillsdale College, in district observances of Constitution Day, celebrated this year on Sept. 17.
The ACLU opposed the use of materials from these groups in part because they promote Christianity over other religions.
“It is well established that government action may not promote religion,” James Hardiman, legal director for ACLU of Ohio, said in a letter to the Springboro board.
Hardiman cited a 1994 legal opinion, Washegsic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools, in arguing the use of the materials “symbolically places the government’s seal of approval on one religious view — the Christian view.”
The NCCS sent its June newsletter in response to a request for its perspective on the debate in Springboro. The newsletter makes no mention of Springboro or creationism, but advocates for a “preferred status” for the freedom of religion.
“The freedom of speech and press and assembly would already give people the right to express their religious beliefs, but the inclusion of freedom of religion as a first and separate right assures Americans that religious beliefs and expressions have a preferred status,” Earl Taylor Jr., the group’s president, said in the newsletter.
The renewed debate in Springboro has attracted national attention.
National media picked up the story, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, again joined the ACLU in opposition.
“The proposed policy on ‘controversial issues’ is merely a ploy to inject religion into the public schools. Teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional no matter which way you frame it,” Rebecca Markert, senior staff attorney for the foundation, said in an email.
In 2011, Kohls proposed including creationism as supplemental curriculum, triggering opposition locally and from the ACLU and the foundation.
“In my view, this is not any different than what was proposed in 2011,” Markert said in response to the latest proposal.
Lisa Babb, who has three children in the district, said the school board is “taking the focus away from the huge elephant in the room,” which is negotiations with the Springboro teachers union.
“It’s frustrating to me,” Babb said. “Rather than doing what’s right and coming up with a reasonable compromise with the teachers, they’re bringing up divisive issues like this. Focus on what’s important.”
Staff writer Steven Matthews contributed to this story.
Next board meeting
7 p.m., Tuesday, June 4
1675 S. Main St. (Ohio 741)
Controversial Issues in Area Schools
Most Ohio school districts have policies regarding the treatment of controversial issues.
Springboro, Oakwood, Kettering and Vandalia-Butler have practically identical controversial issue policies.
Other districts including Centerville, Dayton, Huber Heights and include different versions of a policy on Controversial Issues.
The Beavercreek district sets policies for dealing with controversial issues in a policy headed “Selection of Instruction Resources.”
None of the policies mention creationism
Source: Dayton Daily News survey of district policies
Creationism: a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis.
Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary