Georgia District Settles Lawsuit

By Sean Cavanagh — January 09, 2007 1 min read
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The theory of evolution will appear in biology textbooks in a suburban Atlanta school district—without any stickers, stamps, labels, or warnings attached to it.

Officials of the Cobb County, Ga., system have settled a long-running federal lawsuit by agreeing to keep written disclaimers declaring evolution “a theory, not a fact” and calling for it to be “critically considered” from being affixed to science texts.

The Cobb County school board originally voted to place stickers on the textbooks in 2002, but a group of parents in the 106,000-student district sued to halt the decision. They said the disclaimers violated the constitutional ban on government establishment of religion.

In 2005, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper, in Atlanta, ordered the stickers removed. But last year, a federal appeals court sent the decision back to his court, citing concerns about the record of evidence in the case.

While maintaining that the stickers were constitutional, Cobb County officials said last month that they did not want to prolong the legal fight. “[W]e faced the distraction and expense of starting all over with more legal actions and another trial,” the board’s chairwoman, Teresa Plenge, said in a Dec. 19 statement.

The settlement came almost a year after a federal judge in Pennsylvania issued a sweeping decision declaring that the Dover, Pa., school district’s policy promoting a supposed alternative to evolution was unconstitutional. The judge said that the alternative, called intelligent design, amounts to religious belief; legal observers have predicted that his ruling would make it harder for districts to single out evolution for what scientists say is unsubstantiated criticism, when students are told of the theory in science classes. (“Possible Road Map Seen in Dover Case,” Jan. 4, 2006.)

The theory of evolution states that humans and other living things have developed over time through natural selection and random mutation. Intelligent design holds that living things show signs of having been shaped by an unidentified creator.

The Cobb County disclaimers have not appeared on textbooks since Judge Cooper’s 2005 order, district officials say. The settlement calls for the district to keep any “stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions, or other warnings” about evolution off science texts. District officials agreed to pay $167,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal expenses.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2007 edition of Education Week


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