An Evolving Case, the Voters Speak, and a Floating Headache

By Mark Toner — November 10, 2005 3 min read
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You could call it reinheriting the wind. Following months of debate that drew worldwide attention, the Kansas Board of Education formally approved new science standards that challenge evolution, returning to a stance a previous board took in 1999 before being voted out the following year. While the vote allowing nonscientific explanations for natural phenomena—which, technically speaking, isn’t actually science—was widely seen as inevitable, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association withdrew what remained of their material from the state standards in protest. Conservatives downplayed worries that the decision will hurt the state’s reputation. “I did not see one piece of sky that has fallen,” said former board chairwoman Linda Holloway, who led the first attempt at changing the standards, calling this week’s move “the next step in breaking the shackles of evolution.”

Meanwhile, as testimony drew to a close last week in an equally contentious court battle over the teaching of antievolutionary material in Dover, Pennsylvania, it became clear that one legal group has long awaited the chance to revisit the Scopes trial. Seems that the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan nonprofit formed to “protect Christians and their religious beliefs,” spent years looking for a school district willing to challenge evolution. But the conservative organization, which devotes its attention to defending anti-abortion supporters and opponents of gay rights, isn’t arguing that “intelligent design” is a religious issue. Instead, Bowie Kuhn, the center’s chairman (and the former Major League Baseball commissioner), says ID is worth defending “because people think it’s religious.” School boards in West Virginia, Michigan, Minnesota, and elsewhere declined the group’s offer of free legal services before the Dover board consented—over its own lawyer’s objections. But the point may be moot: The entire Dover school board was voted out of office in elections this week, with new members pledging to address intelligent design only in elective courses, if at all.

Michael Sessions’ life will also change after this week’s elections. Running as a write-in candidate, the 18-year-old high school senior was elected mayor of Hillsdale, Michigan. While scrambling to assemble a team of advisers and pledging to create new jobs in the city, Sessions has already outlined his Number 1 priority. School, he says, “comes first.” “It’ll be six hours [a day] and then mayor for two to three hours each day, so I can focus on both jobs.”

Students in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, are focused on their school’s newest prom accessory: a wand that detects traces of alcohol on students’ breath or in their drinks. Unlike previous means of testing, which required students to be singled out and then directed to Breathalyzer-type devices, the handheld Alco-Blow merely “sniffs” the air around them. School officials won’t divulge how they’ll use their not-so-magical wand, and they’ve canceled several dances until a policy is in place. Some parents had already objected to an earlier district decision to begin random drug testing for students who participate in extracurriculars or drive to school, but at least one group is giving the Alco-Blow high marks. “I know it’s controversial in the community,” said Jack Carroll, executive director of the Cumberland-Perry Drug and Alcohol Commission, “but I think it’s courageous on the part of the school.”

While drinking is a concern pretty much everywhere, administrators at Cathedral High School in Springfield, Massachusetts, have one headache all to themselves: a floating island that eats fly balls and runs into neighbors’ yards. The football-field-size mass of buoyant tree roots, moss, and muck roams the aptly named Island Pond, which is owned by the Catholic school’s diocese. (It’s also rumored to be home to a sizable patch of marijuana.) After it ran aground on a nearby homeowner’s yard, causing considerable damage, school officials paid $5,500 to have it towed back into open water. Cathedral High—whose banks are sometimes visited by the island, which whisks away baseballs and tennis balls—once attempted to tether its unwanted land mass to shore but was ordered to free it by a local conservation commission. “Ultimately, it’s going to float,” principal John Miller said. “It’s a floating island.”

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