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State School Board Deletes Evolution's 'Critical Analysis'

In a tense state school board meeting yesterday members voted to eliminate language in the state's science standards that critics say opens the door to teaching intelligent design. The Ohio Board of Education voted eleven-to-four to delete material encouraging students to seek evidence for and against certain elements of evolutionary science. The board also directed a committee to study whether a replacement lesson plan is needed. The teaching of evolution has been a contentious issue for several years as WOSU's Sam Hendren reports.

Relations between board members continued to be strained yesterday. When it was time to discuss the evolution teaching standards, board president Sue Westnedorf appeared to favor member Colleen Grady over Martha Wise.

Grady's resolution asked the Ohio attorney general to rule on the constitutionality of certain teaching standards involving evolution. But in the end the board approved an amendment offered by Wise that sent the standards and the Critical Analysis lesson plan back to a committee - in effect eliminating them. Before the vote, Wise told board members that she believed the standards were flawed.

"16 scientific and academic organizations urged the board to reject the lesson. And I have a letter from the National Academy of Sciences saying the problems they pointed out to us two years ago were never fixed It is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about the nature of science Please, let's set aside our differences and do the right thing for Ohio," said Wise.

But a supporter, member Deborah Owens Fink pointed out that the Critical Analysis lesson plan was one of only several that dealt with evolution.

"This board is divided on this lesson; that's clear to everyone. There is no mandate for this lesson; it's a voluntary lesson. There's 10 other lessons on evolution," Ownes Fink said.

Owens Fink said opponents believed the lesson plan was a back-door attempt to teach intelligent design. And she said that removing it was incompatible with the goals of modern instruction.

"Some of you have bought into this issue that it is very inappropriate for anyone to critically analyze evolution or to talk about the weaknesses of that theory. I find that very poor pedagogy and very inconsistent with what Ohioans in this great state want. And it's very inconsistent with the notion that we're going to try to create citizens that think critically, that can innovate and that can solve complex problems," she said.

But the board's Robin Hovis said a federal judge's December ruling against teaching intelligent design to students in a Pennsylvania district meant a similar court challenge in Ohio was inevitable."I believe that a majority of this board now considers this lesson planned to be scientifically flawed beyond repair and legally dangerous. Every week that goes by heightens the legal risk that an action may be brought against one of our public schools who's using this lesson plan because it bears our seal of approval. We allow a 'Dover Trap' to remain if we leave this lesson plan on the shelf," Hovis said.

Board member Martha Wise had tried last month but failed to have the controversial provision removed. She said yesterday's measure picked up support because it instead sent the issue back to a committee for review.

"The shift was the negotiation to take it back to a committee for a process - to discuss the process. As long as we were able to get the lesson plan and the standard wording out, the shift was to allow it to go back to the Achievement Committee," Wise said.

Both sides say this isn't the end of the matter. Board member Virgil Brown of Cleveland - who voted with the majority yesterday - believes evolution will return.

"In all honesty, as far as the country is concerned, it's been on-going for 80-some years. It's not likely this is the final decision," Brown said.