When Louisiana officials recently passed a new law governing the classroom materials that can be used to cover evolution lessons, some predicted that controversy—and possibly lawsuits—would follow. Now a committee of the state board of education has signed off on new rules that seek to clarify how complaints and challenges stemming from the law will be handled in school districts.
Whether those rules clarify things, or merely roil the waters on the bayou, remains to be seen.
Here’s the background:
Last year, Louisiana’s legislature and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal enacted a law that allows teachers to use supplemental classroom materials that will help students “analyze, critique, and review” scientific theories, including evolution. (The law also says teachers can use those materials for discussions of the “origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”) The measure specifies that teachers can use materials “as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board,” but it also left it to Louisiana’s Elementary and Secondary Board of Education to create rules and regulations for carrying out the law.
That’s what a committee of the board recently set out to do. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, which has been doggedly following the issue, if a parent or member of the public complains about a supplementary material, a five-member panel will be set up to review that objection. The panel will consist of two reviewers named by the department and one reviewer each named by the challenger, the school, and the publisher, according to the story. The panel is supposed to judge the materials on whether they “promote any religious doctrine,” are “scientifically sound,” and are grade-appropriate.
How do you foresee the new law playing out in Louisiana’s science classrooms? Will the state’s review process resemble what went on in Texas this year, with the state board debating the merits of the language in standards and textbooks? Given that seemingly any Louisiana district could propose a supplementary material—and anybody could challenge its scientific basis—will state hearings on these issues become a regular thing?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.