MARIETTA, GA — The Cobb County Board of Education unanimously approved an amended policy Thursday allowing “disputed views” to be taught in local classrooms.
The policy allows alternate views on evolution to be discussed in science classes but included a last minute addition intended to clarify the boards position that it does not endorse the teaching of creationism or religion in science classes.
“It is the intent of the Cobb County Board of Education that this policy not be interpreted to restrict the teaching of evolution; to promote or require the teaching of creationism; or to discriminate for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, religion in general or non-religion,” read a portion of the new policy.
While some still expressed concern about the policy, the last-minute changes may be enough to fend off a threatened ACLU lawsuit.
The policy was approved in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than a hundred at the Cobb County School District headquarters in Marietta, with scores more waiting outside in the lobby, unable to get in.
Several in the crowd stood up and cheered after the policy was approved.
Marietta attorney Michael Maneley, who helped file an ACLU lawsuit against the school board on behalf of east Cobb parent Jeffrey Selman, said he was pleased with the changes.
“I think its a 100 percent improvement,” Maneley said of the late addition to the policy.
The ACLU lawsuit opposes a disclaimer placed in science textbooks last March, stating that “evolution is a theory, and not a fact” and that the material should be accepted with an open mind and carefully studied by students. Originally filed Aug. 22 in federal court, the lawsuit describes the disclaimer as unconstitutional and a “fundamentalist Christian expression” and demands that the statement be removed from all science books.
Maneley said last week he planned to amend his lawsuit to include the policy if it was approved by the board. But after seeing the revised version, he said the new language might go far enough to dispel fears about religion being taught in the classroom.
The ACLU will likely wait before deciding whether to litigate against the new policy, Maneley said. The deciding factor, he said, will be more fleshed out regulations regarding how the new policy can be used by teachers, regulations that should be prepared in the next month or so.
“We are going from the policy now to the regulations,” he said. “It all depends on how they are going to implement (the policy) in the classroom.”
But Maneleys client was not so convinced.
“Theres still a big loophole in it,” Selman said. “It still doesnt say they cant teach creationism, which is teaching religion.”
During the public comment portion of Thursdays meeting, Selman said he was not against religion, but continued to lash out against the policy as a violation of the separation of church and state.
“To deny that this whole issue is not about religion is ludicrous, its spin,” he said. “If you are going to pass this thing, make sure you are putting proper science in the classrooms.”
Selman concluded his statements by saying “God bless all of you, because I am a religious person, too.”
Members of the school board maintained that their intention with the policy was to promote a “broad-based science curriculum” tolerant of multiple beliefs and not to encourage religious instruction in science class.
“We expect teachers to continue to teach the theory of evolution,” school board chair Curt Johnston said in a prepared statement, read before the vote. “We do not expect teachers to teach creationism … Religion has no place in science instruction, but science instruction need not offend those who hold religious beliefs of whatever type.”
Johnston said additions were made to the policy in order to clear up confusion about the boards intentions.
“There seemed to be so many different ideas floating around concerning this policy,” he said. “There was clearly a lot of misunderstanding. Everybody had a slightly different idea of what we were trying to do.”
Other members of the board said they were only trying to encourage the discussion of a variety of views in the classroom.
“We appreciate the diversity of views we have here,” said Lindsey Tippins. “We appreciate your views, whatever side of the debate you find yourself on.”
The decision to pass the policy was also not one the board took lightly, others said.
“I think this board has taken to heart the issue it was faced with and really did what was best for the children in the classroom,” said board member Gordon O’Neill.