Published March 20, 2007
SISTERS, Ore. – During his eight days as a part-time high school biology teacher, Kris Helphinstine included Biblical references in material he provided to students and gave a PowerPoint presentation that made links between evolution, Nazi Germany and Planned Parenthood.
That was enough for the Sisters School Board, which fired the teacher Monday night for deviating from the curriculum on the theory of evolution.
"I think his performance was not just a little bit over the line," board member Jeff Smith said. "It was a severe contradiction of what we trust teachers to do in our classrooms."
Helphinstine, 27, said in a phone interview with The Bulletin newspaper of Bend that he included the supplemental material to teach students about bias in sources, and his only agenda was to teach critical thinking.
"Critical thinking is vital to scientific inquiry," said Helphinstine, who has a master's degree in science from Oregon State. "My whole purpose was to give accurate information and to get them thinking."
Helphinstine said he did not teach the idea that God created the world. "I never taught creationism," he said. "I know what it is, and I went out of my way not to teach it."
Parent John Rahm told the newspaper that he became concerned when his freshman daughter said she was confused by the supplemental material provided by Helphinstine.
"He took passages that had all kinds of Biblical references," Rahm said. "It prevented her from learning what she needed to learn."
Board members met with Helphinstine privately for about 90 minutes before the meeting. The teacher did not stay for the public portion.
"How many minds did he pollute?" Dan Harrison, the father of a student in Helphinstine's class, said at the meeting. "It's a thinly veiled attempt to hide his own agenda."