Summary of Ohio State Board of Education Action on Evolution Standard and Lesson
AUTHOR: Melanie Elsey
February 15 2006
Please bear with me as I try to untangle for you what transpired yesterday at the Ohio State Board of Education meeting.
In short, yesterday, the board voted to delete a well-written, constitutionally sound policy based, in part, on a campaign of misinformation. For two months board members Martha Wise and Rob Hovis have campaigned that the voluntary model lesson was "illegal" based on the recent Dover, PA decision. When the board postured itself to seek a legal review, Mrs. Wise and Mr. Hovis immediately sought to shut off that option by offering a motion in the form of a substitute -- eliminating the motion to seek legal review.
At the end of the business day (under miscellaneous business) two motions were simultaneously offered by Colleen Grady and Martha Wise. President Westendorf recognized Mrs. Grady first.
Mrs. Grady's motion was to seek an immediate legal review from the State Attorney General regarding the legal implications of the Dover, Pennsylvania judicial decision on Ohio's policy to allow students to examine all evidence on macroevolution.
This motion was in response to accusations over the past months from Mr. Hovis, Mrs. Wise, the media, and others that have charged Ohio's model lesson plan is "illegal" in the wake of the single federal judge's opinion in Pennsylvania. Remember that policy was intended to mandate instruction in "intelligent design." Ohio's policy specifically does not.
It was a logical motion to provide the board with informed legal counsel.
Mrs. Wise, expressed her discontent that she was not recognized first, then offered an amendment to Mrs. Grady's in the "form of a substitute motion." This means that Mrs. Wise completely replaced Mrs. Grady's motion with a different motion that REMOVED BOTH the 10th grade indicator and model lesson!
Note: The public expected that Mrs. Wise would try to remove the model lesson. It was not expected that she would include the entire state policy on allowing students to review all of the scientific evidence.
Board member Eric Okerson then offered an amendment to Mrs. Wise's amendment to replace a portion of her language with new language to instruct the Achievement Committee consider IF the indicator and lesson should be replaced with something else.
It is critical to understand that while board members appeared to have printed copies of Mrs. Grady's and Mrs. Wise's language, they did NOT have written copies of Mr. Okerson's amendment in their possession to more adequately discern the implications of his motion.
Even at the end of the board meeting, a complete and accurate copy of the resolution as amended was not available because the ODE staff would have to wait for Mr. Okerson to EMAIL it to the Department and be reviewed by legal counsel.
This is important because it was Mr. Okerson's amendment to Mrs. Wise's amendment that generated a switch in votes from last month. (See more complete details regarding concerns about his amendment below.)
The vote to approve Mr. Okerson's amendment to Mrs. Wise's amendment was as follows:
(The Achievement Committee may consider IF a substitute to the standard or lesson should be considered)
Board members Jennifer Sheets, Emerson Ross, and Richard Baker (all affirmative votes in January) were absent. Board member John Griffin was also absent due to recovery from a stroke last year.
1. If your elected board member voted to eliminate this carefully developed policy that encourages intellectual freedom on scientific discussions of macroevolution, please IMMEDIATELY send them your disapproving feedback. If he/she clearly stood for academic freedom by voting NO on the above measures, please IMMEDIATELY send them your appreciative remarks!
2. Please help inform others about this important effort to CENSOR discussion in Ohio's classrooms. Ask friends and family to get engaged in this debate. At this point everyone can provide feedback to elected members on yesterday's action. In addition calls to the Governor's office to express disappointment in HIS APPOINTED members who took part in drafting these motions -- Rob Hovis and Eric Okerson.
WHY THE STEPS TAKEN BY THE BOARD LACKED INTEGRITY:
1. Mrs. Wise lumped the removal of the standard and removal of the lesson into one motion. There would have been more integrity to her motion if the issues had been split into two motions. Complaints from the evolutionists have focused primarily on the lesson.
There is no integrity in removing the standard (10th grade indicator) -- which was brilliantly crafted in response to the overwhelming desire of the public for academic freedom and intellectual honesty in teaching about biological evolution.
There is no integrity in removing a single voluntary lesson based on a campaign of misinformation while circumventing a motion to get an appropriate legal review.
2. By removing the standard the board has legally impacted other lessons that were based on that standard, approved through the same thorough process, and supported by the board and the public.
This point was NEVER brought up in the board's deliberations.
3. Public participation both last month and this month on these substantial issues took place after the board votes. This sends a very negative message to the folks who take time out of their work schedules to try to inform the board (in person) on their decisions.
4. Board members who switched their position from January under the impression that Mr. Okerson's amendment would simply afford changes to the lesson may not have completely considered the fact that a revised lesson cannot be brought back for approval if the actual standard is gone. The board did not thoroughly explore this problem with Mr. Okerson's amendment.
5. Board members voted on a policy which was NOT in writing in front of them. Mr. Okerson hand wrote his policy change at his seat. When a copy of the final language was requested by a member of the public at the end of the meeting, she was told she would have to wait until Mr. Okerson emailed it to the ODE !
6. As Mr. Cochran publicly pointed out, last month Mrs. Wise focused on removing just the lesson. This month in the absence of 3 proponent votes, she changed strategy and lumped the standard and lesson together. On the surface this would not appear to change the final outcome, but this should not be assumed. The presence of those 3 members would have added a different dimension to the discussion. Mrs. Sheets with her parliamentary expertise may have shared a different perspective on the proceedings.
6. There is a huge difference between sending the lesson and standard back to the Achievement Committee for reconsideration versus deleting it and charging the committee to determine IF they should be rewritten.
The committee will never be afforded the opportunity to thoroughly assess the validity of the lesson and the standard as they were originally approved. Even Mr. Okerson clarified his own amendment -- what can be brought back is anything but the original. This is a backwards way of evaluating a policy.
For example, if there is a concern about a provision in the board policy manual, the board would not likely cancel the manual or even the section and start over. They would evaluate and fix the policy.
WHAT OHIOANS HAVE LOST
In 2002 and 2004 the State Board of Education showed exceptional leadership in taking a very complex and controversial issue and carving out a policy that truly demonstrated intellectual freedom and protected the state's position of religious neutrality. Now the board has decided that this balanced compromise should be taken away.
What a disservice this is to school districts that have been functioning very well under the originally approved policy for more than three years.
Ohioans have been denied due process to defend the retention of the standard. With no warning to the public -- after 20,000 plus citizens gave input in 2002 -- the standard was stripped away. There is no mechanism for public testimony at the committee level.
The Board (also the public and news media present) lost an opportunity to hear a credible rebuttal from a member of the writing team, but Dr. Ely had to, instead, use his 3 minutes to defend himself against false accusations made by board member Martha Wise.