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Kansas School Board Debating Evolution Again

A debate over teaching evolution is resuming because some educators don't want to pass up a chance to tell the State Board of Education how they feel about science standards favored by the theory's critics.

The board's conservative Republican majority tinkered last month with proposed standards, adding new language favored by advocates of intelligent design. But the board also forwarded its language to a committee of educators for review.

Most of those educators favor retaining the standards' current, evolution-friendly tone, having suggested as much to the board earlier this year. With the committee of educators scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Topeka, some planned to discuss a point-by-point response to the board's language.

The standards spell out what students are expected to know at each grade level and are used in tests for fourth, seventh and 10th graders. The board might not approve a final version until October.

"We're going to carry on," said Jack Krebs, one of the educators, an Oskaloosa high school math teacher. "The board will have to make a decision on whether to listen to us."

Another educator who advocates intelligent design, Bill Harris, said he expects the group to approve a statement criticizing the board's actions.

But Harris, a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said because a final decision on the standards rests with the state board, the educators' views ultimately are irrelevant.

"I don't see any point in this meeting, frankly," Harris said.

Board members wanted the educators to consider adding language to the standards dealing with some subjects they felt were given short shrift, including botany and anatomy. But educators who defend evolution were circulating detailed criticisms of the board's latest language on evolution.

That language reflects skepticism of evolutionary theory that natural chemical processes resulted in the building blocks of life, that all life has a common origin and that man and apes had common ancestors.

Intelligent design says some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause because they're well-ordered and complex.

Board conservatives have said they're just trying to present a more balanced view of evolution. But Krebs and others believe they're pushing intelligent design - which many scientists view as repackaged creationism, banned from classrooms by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Battles over evolution also have occurred in recent years in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Last year, the Kansas board appointed the educators to propose updates in the current standards, which describe evolution as a key concept for students to learn. The educators argued about how evolution is taught - then forwarded an evolution friendly draft to the state board.

In May, a board subcommittee had four days of hearings in which intelligent design advocates pushed for alternative language. National and state science groups boycotted, viewing the hearings as rigged against evolution.