The ACLU’s Arkansas affiliate has sent a warning to the North Little Rock School District about teaching of creationism in public school classes.
The Times wrote in early February about the introduction of religion into a discussion of evolution in a middle school social studies class taught by Honnye Athanasiou. School officials defended the discussion as a balanced presentation. The ACLU said at the time that balance isan unconstitutional injection of religion. No court ruling has allowed for “equal time” for religion.
A letter from ACLU cooperating attorney Lee Muldrow to Superintendent Kelly Rogers spells out the deficiency in the district’s defense of the practice. The letter asks for a response within 10 days that shows the district has taken action to prevent future violations. The letter noted, as our article did, that the teaching in the middle school class wasn’t the only occurrence of religious teaching in North Little Rock classes.
It asked the district to impose disciplinary measures, including lodging an ethics complaint for breach of professional standards and put a system in place to monitor the teacher’s future performance. The ACLU also wants the district to issue a clarification to all teachers that the teaching of creationism, creation science or intelligent design is “prohibited by law.”
Kelly Rogers responded in a prepared statement:
North Little Rock School District is addressing concerns made by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas (ACLU). District administrators have investigated and found that the inappropriate classroom treatment of creationism was an isolated incident taught. This incident occurred for one day in one class period. NLRSD administrators will receive additional training, during a staff meeting next week, and teachers will receive more in depth training during their next professional development day. The District is confident these steps as well as ongoing monitoring will ensure full compliance with the law, and will fully address the concerns of the ACLU.
The North Little Rock School District will continue to follow their policy 5.10 – Religion in the Schools. This policy states each school shall be neutral in matters regarding religion and will not engage in any activity that either advocates or disparages religion. The need for neutrality does not diminish our school system’s educational responsibility to address the historical role of religion in the development of our culture. Since we live in a diverse society, the District’s goal shall be to address the subject of religion objectively in such a way that it promotes an understanding of, and tolerance for, each other’s religious or non-religious views. Discussions concerning religious concepts, practices, or disciplines are permissible when presented in a secular context in their relation to an inclusive study of religion or to the study of a particular region or country. The discussions shall be so that they are objective and academically informational and do not advocate any particular form of religious practice.
Said the ACLU in a news release:
The ACLU of Arkansas has asked the North Little Rock School District (“NLRSD”) to halt the teaching of creationism in its schools and to take steps to ensure it does not reoccur. On behalf of concerned parents of students in the District, the ACLU addressed a NLRSD middle school teacher’s introduction of a three-day lesson on creationism that injects doubt about evolution into teaching about World History and Social Studies. The federal courts have recognized that public-school instruction in creationism or other religious beliefs about the origin of life – whether presented alone or in conjunction with instruction about evolution – has no secular purpose and plainly violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Creationism and creation-science are sometimes labeled or taught as “intelligent design” which is a re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory, as held a 2005 federal court decision in Pennsylvania striking down public school board policy promoting the teaching of intelligent design.
Rita Sklar, Executive Director, ACLU of Arkansas, said, “A public school teaching religion is a violation of parents’ fundamental rights to decide and control the religious upbringing of their children. It also hinders the scientific education of our students, which we should be doing everything to foster and improve.”
Bless the ACLU. But they have their work cut out for them. Consider the Responsive Education Solutions charter school management group, which next fall will either own or help run seven charter schools in Arkansas. Their biology workbooks provided for teaching of creationism until an expose in Slate on shoddiness of both their science and history instruction. They’ve since vowed, in the face of complaints, to amend the biology workbooks, but the new versions haven’t been seen yet and the company is known for the religious orientation of many of its leaders. We’ve written in the past about other studies that have found widespread lack of teaching of evolution in Arkansas public schools, despite its inclusion in the school curriculum framework.