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Calif. Board Defers Action on Religious Tenets in Science Classes

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A suburban San Diego school board has deferred action on a policy on science teaching that many fear is aimed at allowing the teaching of religious tenets to counter scientific theories, in direct contradiction of California's curriculum framework.

The five-member board of the Vista Unified School District late last month voted to study the proposed policy this summer, thus postponing any action until fall, said Rene Townsend, the district's superintendent.

Two curriculum committees, one for science and another for language arts and social studies, will screen the resolution--introduced by Deidre Holliday, the school board president--for compatibility with the framework, Ms. Townsend said.

Officials at the state education department have voiced skepticism that the policy would pass muster.

The incident is the latest flare-up in what many have characterized as a campaign by three conservative Christian board members to influence science teaching in the district.

"It's just been one damned thing after another,'' said Eugenie C. Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, a Berkeley, Calif.-based watchdog group.

A Question of 'Dogma'

The controversy began in January when a parent questioned the newly installed conservative majority's attitude toward the teaching of evolution.

Following a packed public hearing, the board affirmed its support for the state framework, and, in an interview, Ms. Holliday stressed that the board would maintain a separation between science and religion.

Last week, however, she said she was "not interested'' in discussing the more recent developments.

Shortly after the January meeting, John Tyndall, a board member and the accountant for the conservative Institute for Creation Research, requested that a book that advances an "intelligent design'' theory of life's origin be considered for approval as a supplemental text.

But early last month, a committee of science teachers voted not to approve the use of the book, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. The panel said the book "does not offer data based on testability, objectivity, and consistency.''

The policy sent to committee last month would allow the discussion of "scientific evidence'' that challenges existing theories and would permit "appropriate ... discussions of divine creation, ultimate purposes, or ultimate causes (the 'why')'' in history or English classes.

But the board amended a third section that originally read that "no theory of science should be taught dogmatically'' to add that "dogma is a system of beliefs that is not subject to scientific test and refutation.''

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