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Schools Repeal Science Policy

By Elaine D. Briseño
Journal Staff Writer
    The Rio Rancho school board rescinded a controversial science policy on Monday after an hour of heated debate, jokes about being lynched and a likening of evolutionary supporters to Nazis and communists.
    The board voted 3-2 to strike the policy, which allowed discussion on evolution to include other explanations for the origins of life.
    Those who spoke in favor of discarding the policy accused supporters of hiding their agenda, saying their real intent was to teach religion in science class. The policy was adopted in 2005.
    Besides board president Lisa Cour and members Margaret Terry and Divyesh Patel, those who spoke against the policy were primarily teachers from the high school and people who have ties to the science community in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.
    In favor of leaving it in place were board members Don Schlichte and Marty Scharfglass, a few parents and Joe Renick, executive director of the Intelligent Design Network in New Mexico.
    Intelligent design is the belief that life forms are too complex to be explained solely by Darwinian evolutionary theory.
    Scharfglass and Schlichte have said the district needs the policy to make sure students who have alternative beliefs to evolution are allowed to express them without being silenced or ridiculed.
    Cour, Patel and Terry called the policy redundant because it mirrors what is in the state standards. They argued that the policy singles out science teachers.
    Terry said that although the policy does not say explicitly that teachers must discuss religion, she believes that is the intention.
    Schlichte, who is the head pastor at Rio West Community Church, presented a slide show. In his presentation, he said most laws come from a system of beliefs, and that Nazis and communists used their belief in evolution to pass harmful laws.
    Cour responded to his comment later in the meeting.
    "Just because evolution is embraced by evil and unethical people, it does not mean evolution is evil," she said.
    Meanwhile, Schlichte said if logic and critical thinking lead to the idea that there is a creator of life, that's what students should be allowed to examine in biology class.
    "The core of the debate is that evolution is a fact," he said. "I don't believe it is. If we don't allow other interpretations of data, we are indoctrinating students in a religious belief— the very thing you are arguing against doing."
    Scharfglass said he was offended by accusations that the policy was passed for "some trumped-up reasons."
    "I'm telling you to teach evolution," Scharfglass said to the teachers present. "But also let kids know there are other works there so they can investigate it on their own."
    Parent Michael Patrick followed with his comments after a group of people opposed to the policy had spoken.
    "At the risk of being lynched, I'm going to speak in favor of the policy," he said. "The policy is a winner and promotes critical thinking."
    High school biology teacher Lisa Valle said after the meeting that she didn't think the policy was necessary.