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BOARD IN VISTA ORDERS TEACHING OF CREATIONISM
Education: Christian right majority approves change defying state
guidelines. Many teachers and parents object.
By Michael Granberry
L.A. Times Staff Writer
VISTA - The embattled but resilient Christian right majority of the
Vista school board early Friday achieved what its three members had
been promising for months: It formally opened the door to the teaching
of creationism in the city's public schools.
It did so in defiance of state educational guidelines, its own
vehement teachers association, and over the complaints of many parents
and students at an emotional public meeting Thursday night that
dragged on past midnight.
By a 3-2 vote, the board ordered that "discussions of divine
creation, ultimate purposes, or ultimate causes (the 'why') shall be
included at appropriate times in the history-social sciences and/or
English-language arts curricula."
The new policy mandates "exploration and dialogue" of "scientific
evidence that challenges any theory in science" and states that "no
student shall be compelled to believe or accept an theory presented in
Board President Deirdre Holliday, who heads the majority, said the
change came at the urging of her constituency. "People kept asking:
'Why can't we have creationism? Why is evolution being taught as
fact?' Those questions kept coming up, so we decided to do something.
We now have creationism on an equal [sic] footing with evolution."
The policy, which takes effect immediately, threatens to further
divide this San Diego County city of 76,000 that voted in the
conservative majority on a fundamentalist ticket in November.
"Make no mistake -- teaching creationism is illegal. We are going
to get sued," said Trustee Linda Rhoades, who, with board member
Sandee Carter, forms the two-member minority that has consistently --
but futilely -- opposed the wishes of the other three.
But support was evident Friday afternoon among students gathered at
the Vista Recreation Center, the local bowling alley. Tom Turner, 14,
who will enter Vista High School this fall, said: "I think that if
they are able to teach evolution, they should also be giving opinions
about the Bible." Tom described his family as Christian and members
of a Baptist Church.
Tim Hickey, 14, a student at Roosevelt Middle School, was in
agreement. "It's true -- so they should be able to teach it," he said
of the Bible's story of Genesis in which God created the world in
seven days. "Without question, without doubt, it's true."
In the wake of the vote, American Civil Liberties Union
representatives said they are considering a lawsuit and will sue
immediately should any Vista teacher begin teaching biblical
creationism in the classroom.
Some of the city's outraged citizenry were saying for the first
time Friday that a recall drive to remove the three-member majority is
an imminent possibility.
Susie Lange, spokeswoman for the State Department of Education in
Sacramento, expressed concern that what the board has done is mandate
the teaching of biblical creation through the "back door" method of
bringing it up in discussion of history and the humanities -- just not
in science classes.
She added that this is the first time any California school board
has take such a step.
Lange said state education officials will "watch the situation
closely" and monitor whether the board introduces textbooks that
promote Christian teachings rather than offer scholarly views about
"The law they're in danger of breaking is the constitutional
protection against promoting a single religion," Lange said. "But
they will also be in violation of the framework guide set forth by the
State Board of Education if they try to promote only one religious
Lange said the courts "would be the ultimate enforcement" but that,
if state education officials turn up evidence of Vista schools
"promoting Christianity, we would notify them of our intention to stop
She said the State Board of Education has no enforcement powers but
could petition the Legislature to cut off the district's funding. The
more likely response would be a lawsuit brought by the state board.
If the implementation of the policy has the broader effect of
fostering a discussion of all religious viewpoints -- rather than
promoting one over another -- Lange said neither the State Board of
Education nor the courts could object.
Tom Conry, president of the Vista Teachers Assn., which bitterly
opposed the policy, said teachers "will just go on teaching what we
always have anyway" -- in open defiance of the three-member majority.
"We are not happy with the board majority, by any means
whatsoever," Conry said.
"Conry singled out board member John Tyndall for the sharpest
criticism. Tyndall is an executive for the Santee-based Institute for
Creation Research, which published textbooks and operates a
creationism 'museum' in east San Diego.
"Teachers do not intend to talk about the 'weaknesses' in the
theory of evolution that the Institute for Creation Research would
like us to," Conry said. "He's made his position very clear. I know
where he stands."
Tyndall, the most outspoken of the three-member majority, could not
be reached for comment Friday. The third member of the conservative
coalition is Joyce Lee.
Holliday scoffed at the "rumor running loose that we're trying to
sneak creationism into the classroom," saying that the board is being
direct about its wishes.
In response to calls for a recall drive, Holliday said: "[It is]
certainly the prerogative of anyone in this district to attempt to
recall any elected official who they don't think is doing a good job."
Holliday said the policy would hold up in court if challenged.
Jordan Budd, staff counsel for the ACLU of San Diego County, said
the board's new policy fell short of what he believed the conservative
majority sought: an outright mandate to teach creationism to the
exclusion of more accepted theories of evolution.
"It's an echo of the agenda they set out to accomplish," Budd said.
Meanwhile back at the bowling alley, Tom said: "We hear a lot about
the controversy -- in class and at home -- but they shouldn't be
having it. Because the board is good. They are trying to do the
right thing. People tell the board they can't teach the Bible, but
that they can teach evolution. If they taught both, we'd be more
Jim Morris, 38, has two children in the Vista school system and
works the front counter at the bowling alley.
"If they want to teach sex education -- fine, with parental consent
only. If they want to teach creationism, same thing. If I want it
taught to my child, it can be done, but only with my consent. It
should not be forced on anyone."