- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - An attempt to repeal a six-year-old law that permits public school science teachers to use instructional material outside a classroom’s adopted textbook was rejected Thursday by the Senate Education Committee.

Senators voted 3-1 against removing the Louisiana Science Education Act.

Supporters of the law, including Gov. Bobby Jindal and Christian conservatives, say it promotes critical thinking and strengthens education. Critics say that by allowing supplemental materials in classrooms, science teachers have a loophole to teach creationism and inject religious doctrine into their teaching.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, has unsuccessfully proposed for years to repeal the law, saying it hurts science teaching. She said 78 Nobel prize-winning scientists have signed a petition saying the Louisiana Science Education Act should be removed.

“I believe this act hurts our students. It certainly is something that I believe puts Louisiana in the Dark Age. Creationism is being taught in Louisiana public schools, and I don’t think it’s something that should be done in science classes,” Peterson said.

She said the law keeps students from getting adequate science education and drives science professors away from Louisiana college campuses.

Supporters of the existing law point to guidelines adopted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that prohibit promoting religious doctrine in supplemental materials and require that information teachers present must be “scientifically sound.”

“I encourage you not to allow accusation and political zealotry to prevail over reason or to accept the unsubstantiated claims made here today,” said Gene Mills, president of the conservative Louisiana Family Forum.

He said no complaint has ever been filed with a school board or the state education board about the law. Mills blamed misperception by the media as creating controversy over the law.

“It’s a reasonable academic freedom policy, one that has become a model for others,” he said.

Other opponents of the repeal specifically challenged evolution as scientific fact.

Efforts to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act are led by Zack Kopplin, a Rice University student from Baton Rouge who has drummed up support from scientists around the country. Kopplin said he will keep returning to the Legislature seeking repeal, despite the repeated defeats.

“It’s an embarrassment to our state, to our country and to our education system, and my generation will not allow it to stand,” he told senators.

Voting to shelve the bill were Sens. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas; Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe; and Mack “Bodi” White, R-Baton Rouge. Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, was the only one to support the bill. Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, did not vote.

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