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Union Complaint Over School Science Policy Dismissed

By Elaine D. Briseño
Journal Staff Writer
    The debate over a recently adopted science policy relating to evolution in the Rio Rancho School District surfaced again Wednesday.
    Andrew Lotrich, lawyer for the district's school employees union, appeared before the Rio Rancho Labor Relations Board to learn the fate of a complaint he filed in August, shortly after the policy was adopted.
    It claimed the school board should have addressed the impact the controversial policy would have on teachers before implementing it. Lotrich asked the labor relations board to support the union's position.
    "Teachers could not address the impact," Lotrich told the labor relations board. "There was not time to discuss what this would look like in the classroom."
    The labor relations board, however, dismissed the complaint, saying the issue should be dealt with by the district and the union at the negotiating table.
    The policy, adopted by the school board in August, opened the door for discussion of alternative ideas during the teaching of evolution in science class. Supporters said it would ensure students follow the scientific principles of critical thinking.
    Opponents claim it is a way to slip religion into the classroom, allowing the introduction of the idea of intelligent design. The concept of intelligent design is that life forms are too complex to be explained solely by Darwinian evolutionary theory.
    In a later interview with the media, Lotrich said the policy had created confusion and frustration in the classroom.
    "The majority of science instructors in Rio Rancho are opposed to the policy," Lotrich said. "It's disruptive if students want to talk about Bible verses."
    He said it had an impact on a teacher's ability to teach to standards because all the interruptions are taking away valuable class time.
    He said the state's collective bargaining law required the district to discuss policies with the union that would have an impact on teachers. Some teachers have even threatened to quit because of the policy, he said.
    Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland said Wednesday the science policy did not advocate the teaching of intelligent design. She said the district had actually told instructors they would not be teaching intelligent design.
    Cleveland said the policy might have spurred more discussion, but that was the intention. She said that the discussions encourage critical thinking, which was the goal of the board. She said that even if the board had not adopted the policy, the issue of intelligent design and alternative ideas to evolution were being debated across the country.
    "Yes, it may have resulted in some confusion," she said. "The visibility of the issue in greater society is everywhere. Schools reflect society."
    The school board was scheduled to review the policy at its March 13 meeting.
    However, that meeting was postponed until tonight, so the policy discussion was moved to the April 10 meeting.
    Cleveland said she wanted to share with the school board concerns the staff at Rio Rancho High School had with the policy.
    She said she did not want to go into the details of the complaints until the board meeting.