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Evolution battle shifts to Kansas ballot box

TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)–Three members of the Kansas State Board of Education who voted to lessen evolution’s grip on the state’s public schools are being opposed in both the Aug. 1 Republican Party primary and the Nov. 7 general election.

The election process has become a key avenue for evolution devotees to challenge the Kansas State Board of Education’s Aug. 11, 1999, vote to eliminate references to the theology of evolution on state assessment tests measuring student competency in science — a vote that ignited a national controversy.

The Kansas ballot box battle drew the attention of USA Today on July 19, which prominently carried four stories about the nation’s heightened evolution-versus-creation debate.

“A coalition of organizations supporting evolution went all out last week, sponsoring a statewide array of events … ,” USA Today reported, citing, for example, a reenactment of the Scopes trial sponsored by the anti-conservative People for the American Way in Washington and featuring noted actor Ed Asner, a Kansas native. The Kansas coalition of teachers, parents and others is operating under the banner, Kansas Citizens for Science.

A key target of evolution supporters is Linda Holloway, the board’s current vice chairman who was board chairman at the time of its vote. Holloway is responding to the challenge with a full-throttle campaign, including TV ads costing $20,000 “to go directly to the voter,” she told Baptist Press, and an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

“I believe we should teach evolution in school,” she starts in one of two ads, “but I also believe that decision should be left to you. I trust you and your local school board to make decisions that are best for your child. If you want evolution or other theories taught, that should be your choice — not some federal or state mandate.”

She concludes the ad by saying, “I believe it’s your voice. It must remain your choice.”

Holloway, it should be noted, is no one-issue candidate, even as the evolution issue continues to boil. She’s a 20-year veteran teacher, with a master’s degree in special education. Her campaign underscores her advocacy, for example, of academic excellence rooted in getting back to basics in order to build more advanced skills.

She also believes the elected members of the Kansas State Board of Education should exercise educational leadership. “We are elected to a leadership position … to lead and make decisions, not be a rubber stamp,” she told Baptist Press.

“We’re not saying throw out the experts,” Holloway, of Shawnee, Kan., said, but crux education decisions should be made by “the people closer to the children [as compared to] the people at the state and federal level.”

As a teacher, Holloway was troubled by an attitude within education of, “Well, they’re just parents” and “We’re the educators, get out of the way and we’ll take care of your children.” Parents’ concerns should not be dismissed by educators but instead squarely answered, she said.

Holloway, who won her first four-year term in 1996, has had one grandson in the public schools, a third-grader this fall, who will be joined by a second grandson in kindergarten. She is a member of Shawnee’s Grace Christian Fellowship. Reared in a Southern Baptist family in the Atlanta area, her father was a deacon and her mother taught Sunday school for 50 years.

Holloway’s opponent in the Republican primary is Sue Gamble, a 13-year veteran of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education and former president of the Kansas Association of School Boards. If Holloway wins the Republican primary, she will face a Presbyterian minister as the Democratic candidate Nov. 7.

Gamble, Holloway’s opponent, was endorsed by the Kansas City Star, which declared on July 16, “It is time to get the state school board back on track. The controversy over evolution finally focused public attention on the problem with this board: Social conservatives chosen in previous elections have been busy injecting their own religious values into policy-making for the public schools.”

The editorial noted that Gamble intends “to overturn the decision about science standards” targeting evolution.

“The board’s decision does not prevent local school boards from teaching evolution,” the Star acknowledged. “However, it sends the message that evolution is not an important part of student education in the sciences.”

In addition to Holloway, the other board members who voted for the new science standards and thus are facing opposition in Kansas’ Aug. 1 Republican primary and Nov. 7 general election are Mary Douglass Brown of Wichita and Steve E. Abrams of Arkansas City.

Meanwhile, a Democratic incumbent who voted against the new standards, Bill Wagnon, will face a conservative opponent Nov. 7 who is unopposed in the Republican primary. Another district, where the Republican incumbent moved from the state, entails a Republican primary battle between a conservative and moderate to face a Democrat in November who is unopposed in the primary.

Holloway can be reached by phone and fax at (913) 268-1455; email, [email protected]; mail, 11919 W. 66 St., Shawnee, KS 66216.

The names of all current members of the Kansas State Board of Education can be located on the Internet at www.ksbe.state.ks.us/commiss/bdaddr.html.

Five of the 10 seats on the Kansas board will on the 2002 ballot.