Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Intelligent Design in Pratt County, Kansas
Immediately after the Kansas State Board of Education's August 1999 adoption of science content standards that opened the door to teaching creationism (RNCSE 1999; 19 : 6, 19 : 7-9), speculation began about which local schools would walk through that doorway. Within a few weeks, NCSE heard that in Pratt County, Kansas, local activists were pressing for adoption of the "intelligent design" textbook Of Pandas and People (RNCSE 1999; 19 : 5). Parents in the district contacted NCSE, and, with help from NCSE staff and Kansas Citizens for Science, provided teachers and administrators with extensive information about the flaws of the book. Even though some local school board members were sympathetic to teaching "intelligent design", Pandas was not adopted. But Pratt County's creationists were undaunted.
When the effort to adopt Pandas in Pratt County failed, local school board members began discussing whether to add discussions of "ID theory" to draft curriculum guidelines developed by local teachers. Opinion on the board was divided, and months passed as the document circulated back and forth among a curriculum committee, the board, and high-school science teachers. At one point, the teachers, determined to teach good science, responded to the board's concerns by suggesting that students could write ungraded research papers expressing their opinions of evolution. However, observers of Pratt's school board meetings told NCSE that some members said that the State Board of Education had given them a mandate to teach "intelligent design". The Superintendent of Education was instructed to continue a "dialog" with teachers, and activists pressed the issue in the local newspaper (see "Misquoted Scientists Speak Out"; archived articles at http://www.pratttribune.com contain interesting reading, including many letters to the editor from other parts of the state).
On November 7, three new, pro-evolution candidates were elected to the state Board of Education, making the majority of the board pro-evolution; the new members promised that evolution would be restored to state science standards (Kansas City Star, November 14, 2000). With a disappearing "mandate", ID supporters were under increased pressure to act. On November 27, the Pratt County school board voted 4-2 (with one member absent) to adopt standards requiring students to "know ... [t]here are different scientific perspectives regarding the prevailing textbook evidence used to support the theory of evolution" (Pratt Tribune, November 28, 2000). As rewritten by the board, the curriculum called for using resources frequently recommended by "intelligent design" proponents in the classroom.
Observers told NCSE that local board members who opposed the changes asked whether advice had been sought from the school district's attorney and the state regents (who administer statewide assessments), and were told that no such action had been taken. After the vote, board president Bruce Pinkall told the Kansas City Star, "I'm more concerned with the effect on the staff and the perception of their work and the lack of support from the board for their work."
District parents have contacted the Kansas affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union to explore the possibility of suing the district. Others have told NCSE that they hope to change the composition of the board in spring 2001, and then bring the district curriculum into harmony with revised state science standards. NCSE will keep its members informed of new developments.
[NCSE thanks Brad Williamson and Liz Craig for information used in this article.]
By Molleen Matsumura
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.