- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

The defeat of three social conservatives in the Kansas primary for state school board has all but guaranteed repeal of science standards adopted last year to downplay Darwinian evolution.

With the fall general elections, so-called "moderates" will make up the new school board's majority, and reversing the anti-evolution policy is likely to be its first order of business in January.

"I think you'll see a vote to repeal that," said Val DeFever, a Republican school board member whose seat is not up for election this year. "We're going to go back to the pure form, which included evolution and reflected the national science standards."

In primaries on Tuesday, the seats of three Republican social conservatives who established the anti-evolution standards were filled by "moderate" Republicans, who contended during their campaigns that the standards embarrassed the state.

Regardless of whether they win or lose against Democratic contenders in the predominantly Republican state, the board majority is certain to adopt standards modeled on the pro-evolution National Science Education Standards. The science education standards establish evolution as one of five "unifying concepts and processes in science."

But beyond that, defeat of social conservatives in the Kansas school board primary is only the latest illustration that on the topic of evolution, elected creationists cannot survive a public controversy.

In Vista Unified School District in California, for example, creationists elected in 1992 were voted out two years later. And in New Mexico, board members who adopted a 1997 set of science standards that downplayed evolution and allowed creationist materials were ousted the next year.

"In Kansas, as in other places, social conservatives seem to do better in races where people pay less attention," said Allan J. Cigler, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

"Moderate and conservative Republicans have felt that the board's evolution decision embarrassed the state," Mr. Cigler said.

Meanwhile, he said, polls show that 47 percent of Kansans hold a creationist belief, and national polls still show large majorities say the ideas of evolution and creation both should be taught in public schools.

"When it's talked about as choice or local control of schools, a lot of people agree with it," he said. "But when it's cast as embarrassment to Kansas, as it was in the media, people vote the other way."

Only 25 percent of the registered electorate showed up for the primaries, which was lower than predicted.

The policy battle began last summer when an 18-member committee wrote Kansas standards that mirrored the national science standards. But then social conservatives worked with a creationist group to write alternative standards, which they passed by a 6-4 vote.

The new standards assured students could not be tested on material related to the evolution of plants, animals and man over millions of years, and on questions relating to the ancient age of the universe.

Board conservatives said this gave school districts freedom to include or exclude those topics, which offend parents who believe based on texts in the Book of Genesis that the universe and man were created suddenly only thousands of years ago.

Despite the controversy, which gave Kansas national and international attention, it has been reported that no school district has changed how evolution is taught.

The most closely watched race was that of Chairman Linda Holloway, who supported the anti-evolution standards. She lost in the Tuesday primary.

But Mrs. DeFever said more significant was the race in the two rural school board districts that voted against social conservatives who opposed the teaching of evolution. "That was more grass roots" than urban, she said.

Mr. Cigler noted that state Rep. Phill Kline, a social conservative running for the U.S. House, won in Mrs. Holloway's district because he avoided the evolution issue and was spared the abortion issue.

"The evolution-creation debate is taking over the place of abortion," Mr. Cigler said.

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