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By Barbara Forrest

The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) just did something that neither Bobby Jindal nor the Louisiana legislature has had the integrity to do. On December 18, 2012, the board voted unanimously  to prohibit the use of any textbooks that include revisionist history (as in Texas) or creationism, including intelligent design (ID). They also voted to prohibit teachers from teaching creationism, including ID, in Orleans Parish public schools. This is a gratifying development in light of the fact that the Louisiana Senate Education Committee has twice refused to move Zack Kopplin’s bill to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act [LSEA] out of committee.

The Louisiana Coalition for Science thanks the OPSB for this most encouraging initiative. We also thank our own Zack Kopplin for working with the OPSB on this. Most specifically, we should thank outgoing board member Thomas Robichaux, who placed the proposals on the agenda. So . . .

Robichaux-07-01-2011

THANK YOU, MR. ROBICHAUX!

Now, let’s get the details. 

Historical background

Before we look at the school board’s action, readers should know that this decision has an ironic historical context. In 1981, the Louisiana legislature passed the “Balanced Treatment For Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act,” which required teaching creationism whenever evolution was taught in a public school.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional in its Edwards v. Aguillard ruling. The relevant part of that history here is that the OPSB was one of the defendants in that case! Yes, the OPSB, along with the St. Tammany Parish School board, was sued by the plaintiffs in what became a landmark ruling that outlawed creationism in public schools.

The Geological Society of America has posted the initial 1981 complaint, Aguillard v. Louisiana, which lists the plaintiffs and defendants. Here are the defendants:

Aguillard v. Louisiana Defendants, 1981

Aguillard v. Louisiana Defendants, 1981

 

The 1981 complaint does not specify why the OPSB was included but points out that “the Orleans and St. Tammany Parish School Boards are each political subdivisions of the State of Louisiana and corporate bodies with the power to sue and be sued.” Foreshadowing the December 18, 2012, OPSB decision, the complaint requests that the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana grant

an injunction prohibiting Defendants and their agents, successors, and employees from taking any steps to implement the Creationism Act, including the promulgation of any rules or regulations incident thereto, or the approval, selection, purchase or use of any ‘creationism’ textbooks or materials.

New Orleans public officials have now taken steps to get out from under this historical black cloud. On May 5, 2011, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to support repeal of the LSEA. On December 18, 2012, the OPSB got on the right side of the creationism issue by thumbing its nose at the creationist 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act. Robichaux said that the board’s action was a direct response to the LSEA: “The law is a direct attack on our children’s future. This is a way to take a small step to protect our children’s future.”

Back to the OPSB decision

The OPSB decision amends sections I801 and I806 of the board’s current policy manual [pdf]. Thomas Robichaux had already announced his intention to offer these amendments, as reported in the November 20 Times-Picayune:

At Robichaux’s behest, the board has taken up policy changes that would specifically bar district teachers from injecting ‘any aspect of religious faith’ into science courses. The new language even bans the use of textbooks that have been adjusted ‘in accordance with the state of Texas revisionist guidelines,’ which highlight the role of Christianity in the country’s history.

The December 18 OPSB meeting packet, which we provide here [pdf] with only the relevant pages, highlights the changes in red. But for your convenience, here are the amended policies:

  Orleans Parish School Board Policy Manual

Source: Orleans Parish School Board Policy Manual

Source: Orleans Parish School Board Policy Manual

Why is this significant?

Readers may wonder why these policy amendments are significant. After all, the OPSB directly controls only six public schools. The rest have been chartered and vouchered. Here is the significance:

The members of the Orleans Parish School Board, like the New Orleans City Council, know that their city’s ox got gored in June 2008 when Bobby Jindal signed the LSEA. As a result, New Orleans lost a national science convention when the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology decided to boycott the city. That boycott will continue as long as the LSEA is on the books. Other scientific organizations may well follow suit if the legislature continues to resist calls to repeal the LSEA.

The OPSB also knows that Louisiana citizens must be prepared for the jobs that “BioDistrict New Orleans” (the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District) will bring to the city. For that to happen, our children must learn real science, not Louisiana-Family-Forum-inspired bunk. (See the North Carolina Biotechnology Center for an example of how important science and education are to economic development.)

Senator Karen Carter Peterson, who has agreed to sponsor an LSEA repeal bill every year, is a native New Orleanian who will still be working for the area’s well-being long after Bobby Jindal takes off in search of the greener national pastures that everyone knows he really wants. Peterson has put her money where her mouth is in promoting the teaching of real science, which is essential to economic development.

And it is worth pointing out that not a single economic development official in the state of Louisiana — from Department of Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret, to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce, to Greater New Orleans, Inc., to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau — has said one public word in opposition to the creationist LSEA and in support of teaching good science to children. Not a single one. Neither has Superintendent of Education John White, even when he was handed an opportunity to comment on the OPSB decision.

Sen. Peterson, the New Orleans City Council, and the OPSB are showing other politicians and public officials how to do this. According to Robichaux, the response has been extremely positive:

The day after the Orleans Parish School Board voted to forbid science teachers to teach creationism and banned approval of any science textbook ‘which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories,’ board President Thomas Robichaux said he received more than 300 faxes and emails applauding them for their effort.

‘That’s more positive feedback on this proposal than anything else we’ve proposed in the past four years,’ Robichaux said.

The OPSB’s unanimous action is a sign that there are smart people in Louisiana who are not scared of either the governor or the legislature. The school board has demonstrated that politicians can have backbone and integrity, both of which are in awfully short supply down here. Now, readers, please enjoy watching Mr. Robichaux himself explain why he took this courageous step.

 

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