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Religion Colors Goals for Schools

Giving Out Bibles Among Suggestions

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2004; Page SM03

Some of the items on a list of goals and suggestions recently compiled by the Charles County Board of Education -- such as improving SAT scores or having adequate school supplies -- were so routine as to hardly warrant a second glance.

But other suggestions -- handing out Bibles to students, removing science books "biased towards evolution," censoring school reading lists of "immorality or foul language" -- have outraged some parents, teachers and school officials, who say some board members are trying to push their religious agendas into the schools.

"It's like a throwback to the '50s. I didn't realize we're in the Bible Belt, but I guess we are," said Bill Fisher, president of the Education Association of Charles County, which represents the teachers.

Board Chairman Kathy Levanduski said the members wanted to create a list of goals to "get a focus and get a direction to where we're going." The list of more than 100 items, which does not include the names of who proposed each idea, was only the product of a preliminary brainstorming session and would require further discussion before any ideas were acted upon, members said.

But some said the public document, distributed Sept. 23, provides a window into the priorities of some board members.

One entry calls for inviting Gideons International to distribute Bibles to students. Another reads: "Science: Do not use books biased towards evolution (10th grade biology)." It recommends that texts and videos espousing the theory of creationism be provided to students. The list includes recommendations that sex education classes teach abstinence only and "a pro-life approach throughout the school system." Another suggests deleting from reading lists any books that offer a "neutral or positive view of immorality or foul language."

Leslie Schroeck, a guidance counselor at La Plata High School, said she and some teachers are "absolutely flabbergasted." Schroeck, who has two young daughters, one at Berry Elementary School, added, "If this is what they're going to do, I'll pull my kids out of school and teach them myself."

On the Bible proposal, no board member actively supported the idea in interviews. Collins Bailey, who is a member of Gideons International, according to the school system's Web site, wrote in response to questions that discussion on the topic was "way premature."

Board member Mark Crawford said he wanted to hear more public comment before making a decision but added that "anything that will help build character and instill morals . . . is a benefit."

"Noah Webster was considered the schoolmaster of the nation, and he said that education without the Bible is useless. And Teddy Roosevelt said a good understanding of the Scriptures is worth more than a college education," Crawford said.

Levanduski said court decisions suggest that if Bibles were to be distributed, the school system would have to allow other religious texts to be handed out.

"Voodoo is a recognized religion. Wicca is a recognized religion," she said. "My biggest concern with opening to all is just that, we open to all."

Several board members said that including information about creationism in the science curriculum would benefit students because they would be exposed to more information.

"Certainly only one [theory] has been taught in the public school system, yet the kids go to Sunday school and are taught an opposing point of view," said school board Vice Chairman Margaret Young. "[They need] both theories, so they're informed students."

Others disagreed. Biology teacher John Krehbiel wrote in an e-mail that he has seen vast improvement in student performance during his eight years at Westlake High School. "It would be a shame to see our credibility sullied by a silly literal interpretation of a borrowed Bronze Age Babylonian creation myth," he wrote.

The school board's next meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Oct. 12, with a public forum at 5:30 p.m.

"We have to be very aware that anything can happen at any time," Levanduski said. "It is up to the public to decide what they want to be involved in and voice their opinion."


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