Ouachita Parish Schools was singled out in a national publication for an educator-signed document reaffirming the school district's science curriculum policy that Slate contributor Zack Kopplin described as a “creationism policy.”
Kopplin's article, “Dismissing Darwin: Records show teachers and school board members conspiring to teach creationism in public school science class,” was published Tuesday in Slate, a daily online current affairs magazine.
Kopplin’s father is Andy Kopplin, who is chief of staff to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
The document Kopplin wrote about and attached as an article exhibit was a letter from Ouachita Parish science educators addressed “To Whom It May Concern.” The document contained the signatures of several science teachers from the parish school system as well as Superintendent Bob Webber. The document described the educators' commitment to a 2006 policy adopted by members of the Ouachita Parish School Board that allows the discussion of scientific theories such as “cloning, human-caused global warming and biological evolution.”
Webber was unavailable for comment.
“I have obtained...a letter signed by more than 20 current and former Louisiana science teachers in Ouachita Parish in which they say they challenge evolution in the classroom without legal 'tension or fear' because of pro-creationism policies,” Kopplin said in the article.
The document produced by Kopplin said the “undersigned science educators” have witnessed positive effects of the parish school system's science curriculum policy.
“Our students have a variety of cultural backgrounds and as a result have many questions when it comes to subjects such as cloning, human-caused global warming, and biological evolution,” the document stated. “Our science policy gives us the opportunity to discuss those views, held by our students, in light of scientific fact and to bring up scientific questions that challenge current scientific 'theories.'”
In the article, Kopplin outlined his campaign – begun as a high school senior in 2010 – to repeal what he calls Louisiana's “creationism law.” Kopplin was referring to Senate Bill 733, officially known as the Louisiana Science Education Act.
Kopplin wrote that the law “allows teachers to sneak religion into public school classes by using materials that criticize evolution.”
Kopplin also identified state Rep. Frank Hoffmann as an instrumental figure in taking “Ouachita's creationism policy statewide.”
“Like the Ouachita policy it's based on, this law is a back door to teach creationism,” Kopplin wrote in the article.
Hoffmann also served as Ouachita Parish Schools' assistant superintendent prior to his election to the state House of Representatives in 2007.
Hoffmann said the School Board approved the science curriculum policy with the full support of the parish school system and its educators. Likewise, the Louisiana Science Education Act was approved by the state Legislature with overwhelming support.
“It was what the state's lawmakers believed in, and it is what the people of Louisiana believed in and supported,” said Hoffmann, a Republican from West Monroe.
The Louisiana Science Education Act passed the House with a 94-3 vote before receiving a 36-0 vote of approval in the state Senate.
The Louisiana Science Education Act allows classroom teachers to teach material in standard textbook as well as supplemental instructional materials to help students evaluate scientific theories “in an objective manner.”
“This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion,” the Louisiana Science Education Act states.
Hoffmann noted the Louisiana Science Education Act remains the law in spite of opposition.
“That bill is still law in Louisiana,” Hoffmann said. “I think there were efforts and other bills to take it down but it is still law and we are still very proud of it.”
Hoffmann said he did not believe the science curriculum policy or document in question advocated either creationism or the theory of evolution, simply recommended a scientific discussion in the classroom of scientific theories including creationism and evolution.
“The key is that you would be able to discuss it,” Hoffmann said. “I believe you need to be able to discuss all these issues.”
The document signed by science educators says discussions of widely held scientific theories has led to a “higher level of achievement” in students.
“If science teachers are not allowed to answer the students' questions then we will stifle their curiosity and negate the very nature of inquiry science, which is to question a problem and then set out to find the answers,” the document stated. “We are able to scientifically answer questions and show how widely held 'theories' have discrepancies in them.”