Controversial Intelligent Design Policy Axed In Pennsylvania

Newly elected Dover Area School Board voted to strike down the policy on Tuesday.

Two weeks after a judge ruled it unconstitutional, Dover, Pennsylvania's controversial intelligent design policy was struck down by the area school board.

The widely criticized policy of presenting intelligent design as an alternative to evolution during class discussions was wiped clean in a voice vote with no discussion beforehand by the newly elected Dover Area School Board Tuesday night, according to an Associated Press report.

"This is it," new school board president Bernadette Reinking said Tuesday after the vote. The policy, which was approved in October 2004, required that a statement about intelligent design be read to Dover public school students prior to ninth-grade biology class lessons on evolution. Most of the board members who approved the policy were voted out in a November election and replaced by candidates who vowed to strike it down.

The statement said that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." It referred students to a book that promotes the idea of intelligent design, "Of Pandas and People." The policy prompted eight families to sue the school district. On December 20, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III agreed that the concept of intelligent design — which attributes the existence of complex organisms to an unidentified intelligent source — is religious, not scientific. The judge said that violated the establishment clause in the First Amendment.

The news of the school board's vote was welcomed by Dover biology teacher Jennifer Miller. "I will feel comfortable again teaching what I'd always felt comfortable teaching," she told the AP after the meeting, which drew a crowd of nearly 100.

Defenders of the policy had argued that they were trying to improve science education by exposing students to alternatives, but Judge Jones said the board's real purpose was "to promote religion in the public school classroom," and said intelligent design could not be taught as an alternative to evolution in biology classes.

"I tried ... to warn the board that we were facing a disaster, and obviously I was not persuasive enough," said Jeff Brown, a former board member who resigned in protest after the policy passed. He told the AP that the costly court fight could have been avoided.

The battle over intelligent design in classrooms is not over. Officials in Kansas have been debating the teaching of evolution since 1999, and education officials recently approved new scientific standards that question some of the "gaps" in the evolutionary theory (see "Science Classes In Kansas Will Now Question Evolution Theory"). And in Georgia, the state schools superintendent drew fire in 2004 for proposing a science curriculum that replaced the word "evolution" with "changes over time."