HARRISBURG, Pa. — A school board changed its biology curriculum to include a reference to "intelligent design" without consulting teachers or community members, a witness testified Thursday in a trial over whether the idea has a place in public schools.
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Carol Brown, a former Dover Area School District board member who opposed the curriculum change and resigned in protest after it was made Oct. 18, said teachers were not aware of the proposal until the day of the vote.
The board departed from its custom of involving a curriculum advisory committee that includes members of the public, Brown said. Usually that board mulls curriculum changes and makes recommendations.
"The normal procedures were not followed," she said. "It was unheard of for all of the stakeholders not to be involved in any change in the curriculum."
Eight families are trying to have a reference to intelligent design removed from the curriculum, arguing that it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. They say it in effect promotes the Bible's view of creation.
Under the policy, approved by a 6-3 board vote, teachers read a brief statement about intelligent design to students before classes on evolution. It says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.
Proponents of intelligent design argue that life on Earth is the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that natural selection cannot fully explain the development of different species from common ancestors.
Brown also testified Thursday that intelligent design is not science and does not belong in science classes. She added, however, that she thought it could be discussed as part of a comparative religion class.
"Biology is a physical science. It is based on teaching our students about the physical senses, the world around them," she said. "Intelligent design is a matter of faith."
Motivations for policy change
During his cross-examination of Brown, Patrick Gillen, a lawyer for the school board, questioned Brown's contention that board members approved the policy for religious reasons. He noted that one of the board members who voted for it, Sheila Harkins, supports the teaching of evolution.
"I just find it odd that you think you know why people voted the way they did," Gillen told Brown.
Brown served on the board with her husband, Jeff, who also resigned after the Oct. 18 meeting. Jeff Brown testified that the board failed to consider the cost and the long-term ramifications of changing the biology curriculum.
"We had never passed anything without going over the financial costs in excruciating detail," he said. "On this one occasion, they did not want to hear any discussion of the possible costs."
The plaintiffs are being represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and the school district by the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.
New campaign launched
In a related development Thursday, a group of scientists, legal scholars and clergy announced a campaign to defend the teaching of evolution in public schools.
The Campaign to Defend the Constitution released a report identifying Dover as one of 10 communities and states where it contends evolution is being undermined and sent a letter to the nation's governors urging them to oppose the inclusion of intelligent design in science curricula.
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