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Who has final say on teaching evolution?

The school board, not teachers, should determine the public-school curriculum, says the assistant superintendent of a school district at the center of a trial over "intelligent design."
/ Source: The Associated Press

The school board, not teachers, should decide what belongs in the public-school curriculum, said the assistant superintendent of a school district being sued over whether "intelligent design" belongs in science classes.

The Dover Area School Board decided in October 2004 to require students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. Teachers were opposed to the statement, which says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps," and which refers students to the textbook "Of Pandas and People" for more information.

The board has final say on such curriculum decisions, Michael Baksa, the assistant superintendent, testified Thursday during the landmark federal trial. "Once the board makes a decision, whether you agree with the decision or not, it's your responsibility to implement it," he said.

Eight families are suing to have intelligent design removed from the biology curriculum, saying the policy essentially promotes the Bible's view of creation and therefore violates the constitutional ban on state establishment of religion.

Debating design
Intelligent-design supporters argue that natural selection, an element of evolutionary theory, cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms. They say the evidence points to the work of an intelligent agent, although some do not go so far as to identify that agent as God.

Early drafts of the statement were developed with input from the teachers and gave more weight to Darwin's theory, saying that it represented the dominant view of scientists. That language was taken out because the school board disagreed with it, Baksa said.

An attorney for the families said "what was left is language that's pretty negative."

"I don't see it that way," Baksa responded.

Teacher testifies
The defense also called biology teacher Robert Linker to testify.

Linker, who said he is in his 12th year of teaching biology, said he used to begin classes on evolution by drawing a line down the middle of the blackboard and writing "creationism" on one side and "evolution" on the other. He recalled pointing to the "creationism" side and saying, "I'm not going to cover that side because I'm not certified and it's illegal for me to teach it in a public school."

He said he had never heard of intelligent design until the school board brought it up. He said he read parts of the book "Of Pandas and People." He said he concluded that the guiding force it referred to was God and decided that he could not teach the concept.

"Because, in my mind, it had to do with God or religion, and I knew you couldn't do that in a public school," Linker said.

The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to conclude on Friday.