Evolution debate is gathering steam

Evolution debate is gathering steam
COLUMBUS - The debate over intelligent design moved in two directions this week, five months after the Ohio Board of Education dropped critical analysis of evolution in its 10th-grade biology curriculum.

The board’s Achievement Committee this week discussed whether there should be a template that would show teachers how to deal with controversial issues. And an effort is being made to find candidates to oppose board members who have influenced the debate, including Jim Craig of Canton. Craig is co-chair of the Achievement Committee.

Colleen D. Grady, who joined the board in January, said the committee is wrestling with what it should do after the board assigned it to develop new guidelines. She said she suggested that those guidelines not be specific to science, but address how teachers should handle discussion of controversial topics in all subjects. Grady, from Strongsville, said the guidelines cannot be developed until a template is designed and enough controversial areas are identified to justify the use of the guidelines.

J.C. Benton, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said staff cannot develop a template or proposal at the request of individual board members. The request, he said, would have to come from the full board.

Steve Rissing, a biology professor at The Ohio State University, said Grady’s efforts are opening the door again to inject intelligent design into science standards that students would be tested on.

Supporters of intelligent design maintain that life is too complex to be explained by evolution and that a higher authority must have been involved. Opponents contend intelligent design is not science-based and should not be part of the coursework in that area.

Both Grady and Craig said no proposal has been distributed, but Rissing produced a copy of a draft document he said has circulated among some members of the committee, including Craig and Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman. The proposal was an attachment of an e-mail sent by board member Deborah Owens-Fink of Akron. The e-mail’s subject line reads: “Re: science standards update.”

One section of the proposal suggests students discuss “the value of rival theories” as they apply to global warming, evolutionary theory, cloning and stem-cell research. There’s no mention of controversial issues in other subjects.

“(Intelligent design) is not going to come up again,” Craig said. He refused to comment further.

“I’m not advocating for creating a lesson plan,” Grady said. “Intelligent design hasn’t been part of the conversation.”

Rissing also is making an effort to find people to run against both Owens-Fink and Craig, whose terms expire at the end of the year. Owens-Fink long has advocated intelligent design be part of the science curriculum. Rissing said he’s not convinced Craig will support keeping intelligent design out of the curriculum.

Rissing said he has talked to some potential candidates and is trying to identify others. He would not provide any names.

Meanwhile, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C-based watchdog group, filed a public records request Wednesday with the board and the department, asking for all documents and correspondence related to “proposed changes to the state’s science standards.”

“Public school students in Ohio deserve sound science education, not religious dogma masquerading as science,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the group’s executive director.

Benton said the department will “gladly comply.”

Reach Copley Columbus Bureau Chief Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail: