Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kiel School Board tackles 'intelligent design'

Kiel School Board tackles 'intelligent design'

Battle shaping up in freshman science lessons|defcon|text|FRONTPAGE

Although the mention of intelligent design or creationism in public school science classrooms has been struck down by federal courts, the Kiel School District is considering how to present freshmen with a "balanced" view of the various theories of the origin of man.

The Kiel School Board will discuss those alternate theories at its meeting tonight, though no action is planned.

The issue kicked off last fall, when Kiel resident Patty Kubetz sent the School Board a letter asking why only evolution is presented to freshmen science students.

The question ended up on the board's list of possible future discussions and ignited the indignation of the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which wrote the School Board a letter warning that the inclusion of creationism in public schools is illegal.

Kubetz, who home-schools her own children, said she is not trying to coax the school district into teaching intelligent design or creationism. Rather, she said, she just wants to make sure students are made aware that there is more than one way to consider how man came to exist.

"My concern is we're only teaching evolution, we're not teaching any of the other ideas of the origin of life out there that are common," Kubetz said. "People believe different things. All I'm asking is that you mention them; I'm not asking they be taught. Maybe it'll get some kids thinking, 'Why do I agree, why do I disagree?'"

Kubetz's husband, Randy Kubetz, is a member of the Kiel School Board, and the Kubetzes run a website called Wisconsin Citizens Involvement, which encourages community involvement and supports constitutional values and states' rights.

In 2005, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled that it was unconstitutional for teachers in the Dover School District to read a brief statement introducing intelligent design in a freshman biology class.

Undeterred by that history, Kubetz has prepared a statement she hopes will be read to future Kiel freshmen: "Evolution, as a theory of the origin of life, is only one of many theories you may have heard of. Some of the most widely believed include evolution, intelligent design, creationism or the theory that life began as a series of catastrophic events, namely the Big Bang. We are studying evolution."

Though she acknowledges her family's strong Christian background, Kubetz said her interest in having this statement read is independent of her religious faith and doesn't believe it would violate the Constitution.

"I see this as a local issue, I don't see it as federal or even a state issue," Kubetz said. "I don't think the case in Pennsylvania has anything to do with this. I've worded it very carefully so we're not trying to teach it. It is my personal belief that we have a creator (but) I am not looking for that to be taught in the school system. That's for parochial schools, people who choose to home school."

Currently, the Kiel School District follows Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction guidelines on all curricular standards including science, said Superintendent Louise Blankenheim, adding that the board's inclusion of this issue at a meeting is no different than how it handles any community concerns.

"It's not something the board itself has determined to include as part of the agenda," Blankenheim said. "They're just responding to a letter from a community member. This is how they react to any type of topics brought to their attention."

Although Blankenheim declined to comment on whether she believes mentioning intelligent design in class is appropriate, she allowed that strong feelings on either side make the topic worthy of at least a discussion.

"It's very personal to people, very value-laden, but I also know I'm very comfortable with our current science curriculum and we are meeting the science standards," she said. "I'm very comfortable with how it's being handled here at Kiel."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said she hopes the School Board will put the issue to bed as quickly as possible.

"We would urge them not to waste the public's time debating such an overtly unconstitutional provision," she said. "There's nothing to be gained by it. It's kind of shocking, actually. With the economy the way it is, there's no point in championing a losing battle and jeopardizing taxpayers' money and jeopardizing students.

"It isn't just the legality, it's the harm to students," Gaylor said. "(Schools) have a duty to educate, not to proselytize."

Kubetz said she only wanted to open up the discussion, and the outcome will depend upon the will of the community.

"If the community does not want it, all they have to do is come to the meeting and say 'I'm in support of it,' or 'I'm not in support of it,'" Kubetz said. "If more people are not in support of it, I will drop it. I'm not going to fight for something the community doesn't want. I'm simply getting the ball rolling."

— Reach Janet Ortegon at 920-453-5121