Thursday, May 24, 2018
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`Design' of life may be taught as science

COLUMBUS - Ohio is believed to be the first state to include the words “intelligent design” in its adopted science curriculum, but schools will not be required to teach the idea and students will not be tested on it.

The state board of education voted 18-0 yesterday, with one member absent, to make Charles Darwin's theory of evolution - that life evolved from natural processes - the only origin of life concept that will be covered by state-mandated tests.

Local school districts will still be allowed to critically analyze that theory and consider alternative concepts such as the intelligent design idea that life may have been designed by a nonspecified power.

But just before the vote, the board specifically added an amendment that states the life science benchmark that will be used to measure student progress “does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.”

The 75-page document, which will direct curriculum and proficiency tests for Ohio's 1.8 million public school students, became the focus of national attention after the state board decided earlier this year to take public input on possible changes to the state science curriculum. The board passed similar, but less controversial academic standards yesterday for social studies.

“We've done an excellent job,” said Joe Roman, who chaired the standards committee.

“I feel very, very good. We were able to have a compromise and have it come to an 18-0 vote,” said Sue Westendorf of Bowling Green, who was appointed to the board of education by then-Gov. George Voinovich and reappointed by Gov. Bob Taft, both Republicans.

Board member Martha Wise, who was re-elected in November to represent Lucas, Wood, Erie, and Lorain counties as well as parts of Ottawa, Huron, and Seneca, had planned to vote against the science standards until the new language was added.

“There's not a problem with it. We're not going to tie it to intelligent design or to a higher power or to a religious view,” Mrs. Wise said.

During the public comment section of the meeting, 21 people addressed the board, most hoping the language adopted in October would remain intact.

That language would have students describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.

“It's hard to believe how we in Ohio would not allow our students to critically analyze aspects of evolution,” said Christian Hogg of Columbus.

But Deborah Owens Fink, a member of the standards committee who originally supported teaching intelligent design, said the board did not intend to allow October's version to open the door to religion in public schools.

“I felt that some individuals had misconstrued the intent of this board,” she said. “I think we are well served by this addition.”

Jody Sjogren, co-founder of the national Intelligent Design Network, said after the vote that Ohio is “the first state to have the words intelligent design included” in its adopted science curriculum.

Patricia Princehouse, who represents the Ohio Citizens for Science, called the new standards a victory for science because they do not specifically include intelligent design.

“That would have been a huge boost for creationists nationwide,” she said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited public schools from teaching creationism because of concerns over its religious meaning.

Ohio's previous science standards recommended schools teach the concept of “change through time” in their curriculum, but did not mention the word “evolution.”

That will change things for some districts, yet allow other districts like Anthony Wayne and Patrick Henry - both of which teach intelligent design - to continue to do so.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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