Kan. School Standards OK’d by 10th Circuit

     (CN) — New science standards adopted by the Kansas Board of Education do not violate religious freedoms, the 10th Circuit ruled, upholding a lower court’s dismissal of an education lawsuit.
     In 2013, Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE), along with Kansas taxpayers and parents of students enrolled in Kansas schools, sued the state’s board of education, claiming it had violated the Establishment Clause because its new science standards’ “concealed aim is to teach students to answer questions about the cause and nature of life with only non-religious explanations,” Tuesday’s 10th Circuit ruling states.
     Kansas was one of 26 states to adopt the “Next Generation Science Standards”, based on the National Research Council’s “Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas,” which was published in 2011.
     A description of the standards on the National Academic Press website says “the overarching goal is for all high school graduates to have sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on science-related issues, be careful consumers of scientific and technical information, and enter the careers of their choice.”
     COPE argued injury because “(1) the board’s adoption of the standards has communicated a religious symbol or message and breached plaintiff parents’ trust; and (2) Kansas schools’ implementation of the standards is imminent and will result in anti-religious instruction,” according to 10th Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero’s 15-page opinion.
     The 10th Circuit didn’t buy the group’s claims.
     “The standards do not condemn any or all religions and do not target religious believers for disfavored treatment,” Lucero wrote for a three-judge panel. “And COPE offers only threadbare assertions that the standards intend to promote a non-religious worldview. Thus, COPE’s allegations regarding adoption amount to psychological consequences produced by observation of conduct with which it disagrees. This injury does not suffice.”
     Because the science standards do not dictate specific science curriculum, and because instructors retain discretion in how they will ensure the standards are implemented, the 10th Circuit found that “any fear of biased instruction is premised on COPE’s predictions of school districts’ responses to the standards—an attempt by COPE to recast a future injury as a present one.”
     “COPE alleges injury because it believes the standards do not reflect an objective or neutral view of evolution, and require schools to teach science to young children who cannot critically analyze scientific theories,” Lucero wrote. “These claimed injuries would result from what is allegedly not in the standards—an objective view of origins science. But nothing prevents school districts from adding to or altering the standards as they develop curricula.” (Emphasis in original.)
     The standards also encourage teachers to instruct on the limits of science and to supplement them with additional material, which could include alternative theories of creation, according to Lucero.
     “In the face of this uncertainty, we cannot know whether COPE will find the curricula districts adopt adequately objective,” the judge wrote.
     This is not the first time Kansas schools have become political battlegrounds. A bill proposed last year would throw teachers in jail for teaching “harmful material,” and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownbeck advocated significant cuts to education funding months later.
     John Calvert, attorney for COPE and the other plaintiffs, did not respond to email or voicemail requests for comment left Wednesday morning.
     The Kansas Board of Education was represented by the state’s Attorney General’s Office, which also did not respond to Wednesday morning voicemail and email requests for comment.

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