A suburban school board that put stickers in high-school science books saying evolution is “a theory, not a fact” abandoned its legal battle to keep them Tuesday after four years.
The Cobb County board agreed in federal court never to use a similar sticker or to undermine the teaching of evolution in science classes.
In return, the parents who sued over the stickers agreed to drop all legal action.
“We certainly think that it’s a win not just for our clients but for all students in Cobb County and, really, all residents of Georgia,” said Beth Littrell of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
The school board placed the stickers inside the front cover of biology books in 2002 after a group of parents complained that evolution was being taught to the exclusion of other theories, including a literal reading of the biblical story of creation.
The stickers read: “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.”
A federal judge ordered the stickers removed in 2005, saying they amount to an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. The school board appealed, but a federal appeals court sent the case back, saying it did not have enough information.
“We faced the distraction and expense of starting all over with more legal actions and another trial,” said board chairwoman Teresa Plenge. “With this agreement, it is done and we now have a clean slate for the new year.”
No admission of unconstitutionality
School board attorney Linwood Gunn said the agreement is not an admission that the stickers were unconstitutional. “The school board attempted to reach what they thought was a reasonable compromise,” he said.
The board agreed to pay about one-third of the plaintiffs’ court costs, Gunn said.
“The settlement brings to end a long battle to keep our science classes free of political or religious agendas,” parent Jeffrey Selman said in a statement handed out by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the groups that represented the plaintiffs.
It was one of several recent battles over what role evolution should play in science education.
Last year, a federal judge barred the Dover, Pa., school district from teaching “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution. Also last year, the Kansas state school board adopted standards critical of evolution, but several of the members who pushed that plan were ousted by voters this year.
In 2004, Georgia’s state schools superintendent briefly proposed a science curriculum that dropped the word “evolution” in favor of “changes over time.” That plan was scrapped amid protests by teachers.
Cobb County has a population of about 660,000.