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Published: Monday, 12/9/2002

State board to decide on alternative to evolution

BY SANDRA SVOBODA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Northwest Ohio's four state board of education members are evenly split on how they'll vote tomorrow on new science standards that include a provision for teachers to teach alternatives to evolutionary theory.

By state law, the 19-member board must adopt standards for science and social studies this month that will outline material on state proficiency tests, including the forthcoming Ohio Graduation Test.

Developing the standards drew national attention when a provision for “intelligent design” theory was considered as an alternative for evolution. The theory holds that a being - not necessarily a god - designed and created life and its various forms.

Supporters call it a legitimate challenge to evolution. Opponents call it “creationism in camouflage” and worry that it opens public education in Ohio to religious-based content.

A state board of education committee in October approved the standards and passed them on for the full board vote this month. While they do not mandate the teaching of intelligent design theory, the standards state that students should “understand how scientists today continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”

Virginia Jacobs of Lima, the elected board member representing, in part, Allen, Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Henry, Sandusky, and Seneca counties, said she'll vote against the standards because no scientific theory other than evolution is challenged.

“My compromise would be what the real scientists ask for: to investigate all scientific theory, not singling out evolution,” Ms. Jacobs said.

Some of the religious fervor surrounding the development of the standards scared her, she said. But such opposition was from fringe groups, she added.

Elected board member Martha Wise of Avon, who represents Lucas, Wood, Erie, and Lorain counties as well as parts of Ottawa, Huron, and Seneca counties, said she'll also vote against the standards.

“If there is not a better compromise ... than what was defined in October, then there will be several of us that vote `no,' although the standards themselves are good standards. The principle of this language is not accurate,” Mrs. Wise said.

Emerson Ross, a Toledoan who was appointed to the board by then-Gov. George Voinovich in 1995 and reappointed by Gov. Bob Taft in 2000, said he'll vote for the standards as the committee passed them in October.

“I don't believe they create the opening that the intelligent design people are promoting at this point, at least that's not what I understand,” Mr. Ross said.

Sue Westendorf of Bowling Green, who was appointed to the board by Mr. Voinovich in 1997 and reappointed by Mr. Taft in 2000, also will support the standards in the vote.

“I'm OK with where we are. I'm not inclined to make any changes to what we've done. I think we've taken input over the past 11 months. I'm inclined to make no changes. I've gotten real positive feedback on what we did,” Ms. Westendorf said.

Eleven members of the board are elected, while the governor appoints eight members.

The members serve four-year terms.



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