Baptists take lead in opposing evolution-only standards
Public input to be heard in January at Jacksonville, Miramar meetings
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.
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TAMPA (FBW)—From activist moms in St. Augustine, to a member of the State Board of Education in Tallahassee, to a church leader in Brandon, Florida Baptists have taken the lead in opposing proposed science standards that require evolution-only teaching in the Sunshine State’s public schools.
In October, a 45-member committee appointed by the Florida Department of Education released proposed new standards for teaching science (and other subjects), requiring evolution and diversity knowledge as one of the “big ideas” for elementary students and “bodies of knowledge” for high school students.
The standards for grades 9-12 require students learn that, “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence. Organisms are classified based on their evolutionary history. Natural selection is the primary mechanism leading to evolutionary change.” One “benchmark” for those grades stipulates that students, “Explain how evolution is demonstrated by the fossil record, extinction, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, biogeography, molecular biology (crosscuts with earth/space), and observed evolutionary change.”
The standards were available online at www.flstandards.org, but the period to offer comments closed Dec. 14. According to statistics provided to Florida Baptist Witness by Tom Butler, press secretary for the Department of Education, 6,498 educators and 2,924 others offered 17,696 comments and 234,677 ratings of the new science standards.”
“I have never seen a public response to any agenda item like this one,” Fair said, noting he has served on the Board eight years.
Although formal comments may no longer be taken on the Web site, interested persons may continue to offer their views to members of the State Board of Education (http://www.fldoe.org/board/), the body that will make the ultimate decision on the new standards, probably at its Feb. 19 meeting in Tallahassee.
For Kim Kendall, a stay-at-home mom and former air traffic controller, joined by three other concerned mothers in St. Johns County, the new standards deny academic freedom to teachers and students to explore both the proofs as well as the faults of evolution.
Kendall, a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, was invited to offer brief comments at the conclusion of the Dec. 11 meeting of the State Board of Education after State Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, intervened to request time for Kendall because the previously scheduled Jacksonville meeting had been cancelled. At 8:45 p.m. on Dec. 10, however, Kendall was contacted by Education Commissioner Eric Smith who told her that she would not be permitted to offer comments at that meeting.
“It was really was more an issue of fairness to others rather than anything else,” Smith told the Witness after the SBOE meeting in Tampa. “There will be an appropriate time. This just wasn’t the appropriate time.”
The last minute cancellation, however, did not keep Kendall and her three friends—all with children in St. Johns County public schools—from attending the Tampa SBOE meeting. Although they were not able to offer public comment, they met individually with members of the SBOE to share their concerns.
“We’ve had enough of people trying to redirect our children’s brains, and it’s about time we just stand up and say enough’s enough,” Kendall told the Witness in Tampa.
Kendall’s opposition has attracted attention of newspapers across the state, including The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel and The Associated Press. While in Tampa, Kendall appeared on “Drive Time with Bill Bunkley,” aired daily 4:00-6:00 on WTBN, where she talked about the evolution issue with Bunkley, host of the program, longtime member of Idlewild Baptist Church and legislative consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention.
State Board of Education member Donna Callaway, a veteran educator and longtime member of First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, has received statewide news attention since her exclusive comments to Florida Baptist Witness were published in a Dec. 6 editorial.
“I agree completely that evolution should be taught with all of the research and study that has occurred. However, I believe it should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origin of life,” Callaway told the Witness, adding that she would vote against the standards if they reach the SBOE in their current form.
Callaway was harshly criticized in a Dec. 10 St. Petersburg Times editorial, “Ignorance has no place in curriculum,” calling on her to resign from the SBOE for putting “her religion before the educational needs of Florida students… .”
Asked after the Tampa SBOE if she would like to respond to the Times editorial, Callaway told the Witness she stands by her comments, but would decline further comment for now.
Asked by the Witness about the criticism of Callaway, SBOE Chairman Fair praised Callaway as “one of my favorite persons. She has always demonstrated good judgment. She continues to do that.”
The Times also criticized Selena “Charlie” Carraway, program manager in the Office of Instructional Materials for the Department of Education, for an e-mail—sent on her personal e-mail on private time—encouraging opposition to the new science standards. The Times called for Carraway to be fired, although she was merely “counseled” by the Department for her “inappropriate” activity.
In the e-mail, according to a news account by the Times, Carraway identified herself as a member of Sopchoppy Southern Baptist Church, detailed the science standards’ evolution-only approach and asked, “Whose agenda is this and will the Christians in Florida care enough to do something about it?”
Also present at the Tampa SBOE meeting was Terry Kemple, member of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon where he is a leader of the church’s Community Issues Committee. Kemple told the Witness his church has been informing its members about the science standards and encouraging members to pray and take action.
Kemple distributed to SBOE members a letter and legal memorandum by attorney David Gibbs and curriculum expert Francis Grubbs critiquing the science standards.
“We are concerned about the scientific accuracy of the Florida standards and also about the potential some of these proposed terms might have for requiring only one particular belief system in Florida classrooms, which would be an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause,” write Gibbs and Grubbs. (The entire memorandum is available on the Witness Web site: www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.)
A new Jacksonville meeting where public comment can be offered on the science standards has been scheduled for 5:30-7 p.m., Jan. 3 at the Schultz Center (4019 Boulevard Center Dr.). Public may also offer comments 5:30-7 p.m., Jan. 8 in Miramar at Everglades High School (17100 SW 48 CT.)
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