ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — A suburban Atlanta school board Thursday night voted unanimously to allow teachers to introduce students to different views about the origins of life.
The Cobb County Board of Education, the state’s second-largest school board, approved the policy change after limited discussion, calling it a “necessary element of providing a balanced education.”
The board’s vote drew cheers from some and expressions of dismay from others in the packed meeting room.
“This supposed victory [by proponents of alternate theories] was shallow, very shallow,” said Jeffrey Selman. Selman and other opponents believe the new policy is a step toward introducing religion — in particular, creationism — in public schools. “We’re going to be watching this very closely.”
The adopted policy, however, included language intended to clarify the board’s position that its action is not an endorsement of one particular theory over another.
“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,” a portion of the policy said.
The board’s decision pleased Michael Gray, a Cobb high school junior.
“I had to do a term paper about evolution and there were just things that I could disprove or have alternate reasons for,” Gray told The Associated Press. “I want my brother and sister to be given the option and not told it’s the absolute truth.”
Religion in school?
A lawsuit, filed last month by Selman and the American Civil Liberties Union, prompted the board to reconsider its policy.
Selman, who has a son in Cobb schools, sued the system because some middle and high school science textbooks include a disclaimer telling students that evolution is a theory and not a fact. He argued that the disclaimer was a step toward introducing religion in schools, which is unconstitutional.
Some educators agreed. “This is an intrusion of theological views into the classroom,” said Wyatt Anderson, dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. “What our students need to learn … is science.”
Cobb school officials took another look at the policy and discussed amending it to include other theories, said board member Lindsey Tippins.
The new policy, he said, drops a provision barring the district from teaching views contrary to “family values,” which he said had been struck down by the courts.
“We’re just cleaning up an old policy,” Tippins said, who added that officials don’t want to force religious thought on students.
Larry Taylor, who has three children in the Cobb County schools, said he doesn’t advocate creationism but believes evolution should not be presented as the only acceptable theory.
“Evolution has not been proven,” said Taylor, who joined the debate over what should be taught in Cobb schools after reading about the ACLU lawsuit. “There are a growing number of scientists who are skeptical about Darwinism.”
The debate of teaching about the origin of species is not limited to suburban Georgia. Ohio educators and parents are split over teaching “intelligent design,” which theorizes that life was designed by a higher power.
In Kansas last year, the state Board of Education voted to restore the theory of evolution to its curriculum, which had been removed in a controversial vote two years earlier.
“It is the educational philosophy of the Cobb County School District to provide a broad based curriculum; therefore, the Cobb County School District believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species. This subject remains an area of intense interest, research and discussion among scholars. As a result, the study of this subject shall be handled in accordance with this policy and with objectivity and good judgment on the part of teachers, taking into account the age and maturity level of their students.
“The purpose of this policy is to foster critical thinking among students, to allow academic freedom consistent with legal requirements, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity of opinion, and to ensure a posture of neutrality toward religion.” 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.”
Source: Cobb County—Board of Education