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School Board to Revise Policy on "Theories of Origin"

The Board of the Cobb County School District, near Atlanta, decided on August 22 to consider changes in a policy related to science and evolution education. Early this year the same district adopted an evolution textbook disclaimer. Now the seven member board has voted unanimously to study a proposed new policy for 30 days. A final vote will probably be taken at their September 26 meeting.

The district’s current policy entitled "Theories of Origin" dates from 1995. It reads as follows:

The Cobb County School District acknowledges that some scientific accounts of the origin of human species as taught in public schools are inconsistent with the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens. Therefore, the instructional program and curriculum of the school system shall be planned and organized with respect for these family teachings. The Constitutional principle of separation of church and state shall be preserved and maintained as established by the United States Supreme Court and defined by judicial decisions.

The proposed new policy states:

As stated in Policy IA, Philosophy, it is the educational philosophy of the Cobb County School District to provide a broad based curriculum; therefore, the Cobb County School District believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species. This subject remains an area of intense interest, research, and discussion among scholars. As a result, the study of this subject shall be handled in accordance with this policy and with objectivity and good judgment on the part of teachers, taking into account the age and maturity level of their students. Parents should refer to Policy ICA, Curriculum Development, Policy ID, Curriculum Design and Implementation, Policy IDA, Student Competencies for Basic Program, and Policy and Regulation IFAA, Textbook Selection and Adoption for additional information regarding curriculum selection and content.

According to a news report in the August 23 Atlanta Journal-Constitution Board Chairman Curt Johnston "…said he did not know how the policy would change current classroom practices and he wasn’t sure whether the new language allows creationism to be discussed." However, the headline of a news report in the August 23 New York Times stating "Georgia School Board Requires Balance of Evolution and Bible" seems to be incorrect, as is the statement in its first sentence that the district would now require "giving equal weight to evolution and biblical interpretations".

In March of this year the Cobb district board approved new science textbooks which included coverage of evolution. At the same time, the board decided to require a "disclaimer" sticker be printed and placed in each book. The new books, with stickers, are being used this school year. The disclaimer states:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

On August 21 the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a federal lawsuit against the school district asking that the disclaimers be removed from the textbooks.