Voters' role is evolving Candidates who back Darwin will replace school board members who supported intelligent design.

Posted: November 10, 2005

DOVER, Pa. — Intelligent design will soon be history in Dover Area High School science classes, following an election that is reverberating around the country.

Voters on Tuesday ousted eight of the nine members of the school board, currently defendants in the first lawsuit over the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. Replacing them is a bipartisan slate of "pro-evolution" candidates who say intelligent design, with its biblical leanings, has no place in the high school biology curriculum.

The victory for Darwin's theory, the undisputed foundation of modern biology, in the York County school district came on the same day the Kansas State Board of Education approved public school science standards that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

"The Dover election is a real shot across the bow to school boards anticipating passing these policies," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, a group dedicated to defending evolution.

Tuesday's results stunned the opposition candidates - one of whom is a plaintiff in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board - and their supporters, who were hoping to capture a majority of the board but never expected a clean sweep.

"The people have spoken," said newly elected board member Rob McIlvaine, a Philadelphia native who moved to Dover 25 years ago. "Obviously they took issue with the way the intelligent design curriculum effort was conducted."

McIlvaine said the new board members plan to wait until U.S. District Judge John E. Jones 3d issues his ruling before taking action on the science curriculum policy.

Barrie Callahan, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and former school board member, called the vote "a huge turning point" for a community bitterly divided over the board's decision and the subsequent lawsuit.

The combination of anger over the controversy and "spotlight fatigue" was evident on Dover's town square yesterday, as residents hustled by to avoid a reporter's questions while muttering variations of "I don't want to talk about that."

Several residents said they did not vote because they did not like any of the candidates. One new resident said he didn't have time to register.

"I would have supported the existing board," said Nathan Walker, pastor at Harmony Grove Community Church. "I'm not for getting rid of evolution teaching, but I'm for giving students an opportunity to choose."

"I don't think the attitude of including intelligent design was right. It's not part of science education, and it was poorly handled," said Charles Reed, 59. He added with a twinkle: "They underestimated the intelligence of voters."

But one defeated board member blamed the media for creating the perception that the new policy was a "religious issue" and for dividing the community.

"Four years ago, people were polarized over the school building project; now they are polarized over intelligent design and voted in the liberal school board," said Jim Cashman, who is challenging the vote count because he contends a machine malfunctioned. "People think it's a religious issue, but it's not."

Under the policy approved last year, students are read a statement introducing the concept of intelligent design, which holds that the universe is so complex it must have been the result of an intelligent agent. Eleven parents filed suit over what they said was the introduction of Bible-based creationism into the classroom in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

The six-week federal trial, focusing on whether the board had religious intent when it approved the policy, ended Friday.

When board members take their seats on Dec. 5, it is unlikely that Jones will have issued his ruling. He said at the time that he hoped to rule before the end of the year, but added his ruling could come in early January.

Eric Rothschild, a lawyer with Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, which is part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs, said he saw no immediate legal ramifications for the new board, which will include plaintiff Bryan Rehm.

Until Dec. 5, "the same board is in power, the same policy is in effect," he said. "We are waiting for guidance from the judge."

Two incumbent board members who pushed for the science policy and were also witnesses in the trial got fewer votes than the other candidates. Some attribute the poor showing to contradictory statements made by Alan Bonsell and Sheila Harkins during the trial.

"I think people may have changed their minds as a result," said Susan Kise, 74, a volunteer for the slate of winning candidates.

"Now we can begin the healing for the community."

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

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