Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Gull Lake’s Internal Committee

The attorneys on both sides of the Gull Lake issue seem to be playing hard and fast with the facts on the “internal committee” that was formed to decide whether to allow the teachers to teach creationism in science classes. When we first became involved in the situation, the school board treated it like a hot potato, not wanting to make any decision that would open them to criticism from either side. So they formed an internal committee made up of the two teachers, two other science teachers, the principals of the junior high and high school, and the superintendant. Lisa Swem, the attorney for the school district, appears to be using the ongoing nature of the committee’s work as a reason to put off the lawsuit from the TMLC. In a CNSnews article, she says:

Swem said the process of discussing the legitimacy of the intelligent design theory is “ongoing.” The superintendent, she said, has already commissioned a committee to study the issue and make a recommendation to the local board of education. The advisory committee includes the two teachers who were previously discussing intelligent design theory with their students.

“It is anticipated that the committee will have a recommendation to the board of education before the end of this school year,” Swem said, adding that once the recommendation has been submitted to the board, the decision is the board’s to make.

She said that litigation from the Thomas More Law Center will “complicate matters,” but said that “the school district is going forward as planned, convening the committee, finalizing so they can make a recommendation and a threat of a lawsuit is not going to interfere with that careful, considered, deliberative process.”

But in point of fact, the committee has already made its recommendation to the school board and the school board sent it back to them. Deb Ryan, the school board president, is a creationist and after the committee voted 5-2 against allowing creationism into the science classrooms, she ordered them to keep working on it – whatever that might mean. The Kalamazoo Gazette reported on all of this:

Last week, the seven-person panel voted 5 to 2 against including intelligent design in the science curriculum, Wendzel said…

Deb Ryan, president of the Gull Lake school board, said the issue is not going to involve the board but may go back to the panel.

“It’s still an administrative process. It’s not over,” Ryan said.

It appears that this is being passed like a hot potato. At some point, the school superintendant took things into his own hands and just told the teachers they could no longer teach it, and that is what is prompting the threats from the TMLC. Richard Thompson of the TMLC says the committee was just a conspiracy against his client:

But Thompson said the school’s advisory committee, which was formed in December, is a deception. “This committee has been told they’re not going to make a decision until there is a consensus which means that our clients have to agree not to teach intelligent design,” Thompson told Cybercast News Service.

The committee is “a total pretext to … prevent the study of intelligent design,” Thompson said. It’s “a facade that is not going to get anything done, has not gotten anything done and it’s been a pretext under which they have confiscated the books and have told our clients you can’t teach intelligent design.”

I think he has it wrong. Yes, the committee is a facade, but it wasn’t formed as a pretext for shutting down the teachers. It was formed as a pretext for getting the hot potato out of the hands of the school board so that blame could be shifted regardless of the outcome. And the threat of a lawsuit from the TMLC certainly forces the hand of the school board. But I’d sure like to hear Gull Lake’s attorney go after the TMLC on the substance of the case rather than just engage in bureaucratic doublespeak about the “deliberative process.”

Comments

  1. #1 Duane Smith
    April 25, 2005

    I agree that it would be much better if all parties would talk about substance. However, Gull Lake’s attorney is in a strange place. The Chairman of the Board is a creationist; and evasion and delay is the Board’s strategy. My guess is that Gull Lake’s attorney is following client orders or at least client intentions. At some point, the Board must face the music. For now, they only dance.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    April 25, 2005

    Duane-

    I agree with your assessment and I’m sure the attorney is in a strange position here. The law firm she works for represents a large portion of the school districts in the state, so I imagine that the vast majority of what they do is probably contract and administrative law, not this type of litigation. And I think you’re right about the board as well. They’re just trying to avoid the issue and the TMLC’s aggression will prevent them from doing so.

  3. #3 Dan
    April 25, 2005

    I wonder if we’re seeing the start of a Kansas kangaroo hearing in the making. The creationist school board president clearly has not gotten the answer she wanted from the committee. So let’s hold a hearing at which evidence can be presented to support a fabricated controversy that needs to be taught. The strategy seems to have worked fairly well in Kansas so far. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we know that the ID/creationists will stop at nothing to get their way.

  4. #4 spyder
    April 25, 2005

    I would think that the constituency of the school board would, under board rules, make their collective voice heard during open session at a board meeting, when the board reports out the results of closed session determinations. The litigation would be discussed in closed session, then during open session it would be reported that it is on-going. The most significant pressure an individual or group can bring to these issues is to demand the fiscal accounting of the matter. Under law the boards must report the expenditures for the litigation, and as that figure creeps upward, the public can pressure the Chairman of the Board to let go of the issue. I doubt the district is so flush with funds it can afford protracted attorney’s fees for very long. In CA, on average, the usual monthly outlay just for the discussion phases of such litigation range in the mid thousands to the low tens of thousands of dollars, per case.

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