Public School Teacher Guidelines When
Presenting Controversial Information
It is important to recognize that public school educators do have a legal right to “Teach More Darwin” but it is also important to recognize that there are limitations as to what they can and cannot do because of prevailing court rulings. The list below is NOT A LEGAL OPINION but is the result of discussions with lawyers and observation of what has occurred in various cases of litigation. It will help you to not only recognize those problem areas but also feel confident in your teaching. Some of the legal rulings of the past that point out a teacher's right to teach controversial subjects in the classroom are given at the end of the list below. Some of the legal rulings of the past that point out a teacher's right to teach controversial subjects in the classroom are given at the end of the list below.
The picture is complicated by the ACLU, People of the American Way, secular humanist groups and others who have brought the doctrine of the separation of church and state into the picture. For a more detailed discussion of this subject read the “Background Topic” under “Outside the Classroom” in this web site. This doctrine has modified the clear intent of the US Supreme Court, Congress and LA and caused this writer to exclude any additional information beyond what is in the textbooks on the topics Fossil Formation, the Fossil Record, the Geologic Column, Relative Dating and Radio-metric dating and Intelligent Design. This is done because additional information may reflect upon the accuracy of the age of the earth. Courts have ruled that this type of information may indicate a religious intent and is therefore illegal.
1. You must recognize that as a public school teacher you are employed by the School Board of your parish. As such, you are bound by their desire to not be involved in litigation in the same sense that you do not want to be involved either
2. There are certain topics that you should be very careful about bringing any additional information into the classroom beyond what is in the textbook. As the web page indicates they are: Fossilization Process, Fossil Record, Geologic Column, Relative Dating, Radiometric Dating and Intelligent Design even though it does not normally appear in textbooks. These topics are on a watch list by some people because some data may reflect negatively on the assigned geologic ages in existence and therefore are considered to have religious overtones
3. Do make sure that any additional information presented is from secular sources. Note that this web-site quotes only secular sources on textbook addenda.
4. Be careful to keep the focus on science.
5. If students insist on bringing up religious aspects of any topic remind them that this is a science class and you are not allowed to participate in discussion of a religious subject in the biology classroom (see #8 below).
6. Do not express your personal opinion about any of the information presented in the textbooks or additional information you present even if a student asks for it (see # 7 below). Remember that you are representing your employer and as such can express only what they allow. Your personal opinion must not be expressed while acting in your official position.
7. If a student asks for your personal opinion about a particular topic being presented, reply that you are not allowed to answers the question. The answer should be answered by their parents or other knowledgeable person. The safest policy is to not recommend going to any particular web sites.
8. Recognize that a student may make any comments or bring into the classroom any information they desire and that you as the teacher cannot stop them from delivering this information since it is their constitutional right to do so. Under parts 6 and 7 above you must refrain from taking sides. If you want to allow student discussion of a controversial topic you may do so as long as you do not express your opinion.
9. Your position is to increase the knowledge of the student and enhance their critical thinking skills . In other words you want to teach more, not less, about global warming. evolution, stem cell research, etc.
As stated earlier you are allowed to bring additional information into the classroom under the guidelines just stated. The Supreme Court, Federal Government and the LA legislature all agree. The proof follows.
In the widely misquoted and publicized Louisiana Edwards vs. Aguillard Decision by The Supreme Court of the United Stares, (No. 85-1513. June 19, 1987) clearly states “The act does not grant teachers a flexibility that they did not already possess to supplant the present science curriculum with the presentation of theories, besides evolution, about the origin of life…. ” It states further that teachers are “free to teach any and all facets of this subject” of “all scientific theories about the origins of mankind.” “Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science education.” Note carefully that teachers had the right to supplant the present science curriculum before the Act of the LA Legislature. It was turned down because the wording of the Act did not clearly indicate a “clear secular intent” by the LA Legislature.
A bipartisan act of Congress declared in 2001 in The No Child Left Behind Act that: "The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science…” “Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." [H.R. 1 - "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001": Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference, Title I, Part A, item 78, edworkforce.house.gov]
Further confirmation that you have the right to add supplemental material in your classroom is granted by the LA Science Education Act of 2008. It states in section B.(1) “The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education , upon request of a city, parish, or other local public school board, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open an objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
(2). Such assistance shall include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objective review scientific theories being studied, including those enumerated in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection.
C. A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
D. 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 non-religion.
The above words mean to you as a Public School Teacher that you must satisfy not only the separation of church and state criteria but also the Edwards vs. Aguillard Decision (see below) when it stated “be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science education.” This is not as formidable a task as you might expect as the guidelines given above makes apparent.