FRANKFORT, Ky. – The state school board, with six new members, on Wednesday changed its answer on a history question that had turned into an emotional religious debate.
The reconfigured board, with six new appointments by Gov. Ernie Fletcher, reversed a decision two months earlier that would have taught students about a new way to describe historic dates traditionally identified as B.C. or A.D.
Those designations carry religious overtones because they stand for Before Christ, and Anno Domini — Latin for "in the year of the Lord."
The board's April 11 decision to adopt curriculum changes that included teaching the designations of B.C.E. for Before Common Era and C.E. or Common Era, had drawn criticism from some activist ministers and religious groups. Some conservative Christians complained the change was an attempt to sterilize a reference to Christ.
"It's part of a larger effort to expunge religious references in our culture," said Martin Cothran, a policy analyst at The Family Foundation, a conservative group based in Lexington. "I think it's not something that's coming from regular people. It's coming from certain other sectors of our society who think that we ought not to talk about religion in our public life."
The new abbreviations would have been added to the traditional B.C. and A.D. references.
The change was proposed so that Kentucky students would be familiar with the terms B.C.E. and C.E., which are coming into widespread use and would likely be on college placement tests, state education officials have said.
On Wednesday, all 10 school board members present voted in favor of abolishing any reference to B.C. and B.C.E to preserve the traditional abbreviations.
"It's somewhat of a solution searching for a problem," board member David Webb said of the proposal. "The B.C/A.D. connotation have served civilization quite well for a couple millennia now and I saw no compelling reason to change."
Following the April vote, a public hearing on the matter drew complaints from ministers and Christian groups. A few dozen people attended the hearing, but more than 900 people offered letters, e-mails and comments on the matter, said Kevin Noland, the Department of Education's general counsel.
Daniel Chejfec, executive director of the Central Kentucky Jewish Federation, said he was not surprised by the board's reversal. However, he thought the move ignored people with different religious beliefs.
Instead, public school pupils should be taught that there are other ways to reference historical dates, Chejfec said.
"The message they are sending is that this is a Christian country and not an American country," Chejfec said. "The important thing is being Christian and not American. That's the way I feel, because this was not about eliminating any reference to A.D. or B.C, it was about adding another dimension."
R. Keith Travis, the board's chairman, said he voted to keep only A.D. and B.C. at the April meeting, but when it was defeated he voted in support of the curriculum change because it was part of a larger package. Travis said the board's latest move to drop the idea may reflect its new membership, but also its willingness to listen to comments.
"It also reflects review of the public comments and the sentiments of people that had concerns with our actions," Travis said. "And so we tried to be responsive to that."
Gov. Ernie Fletcher, an ordained Baptist minister, recently appointed the six new members to the board. He has now appointed or reappointed every member on the school board. This week's two-day meeting was the first for the new board.
Fletcher spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said Fletcher did not direct the board on how it should vote on the matter.
"We are pleased that the school board has made what we believe is the right decision for Kentucky's schools," Whitaker said.