BOISE – After Idaho lawmakers this year rejected five proposed new school science standards regarding climate change, saying they weren’t sufficiently balanced, the state Department of Education is gathering public input on how to rewrite the standards.
So far, meetings in Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Fort Hall have drawn comments overwhelmingly in favor of the rejected standards. This week, meetings will be held Tuesday evening in Boise, Wednesday in Lewiston and Thursday in Coeur d’Alene.
“The public hearings are intended as an opportunity for anyone interested to provide substantive feedback, not only on the science standards but other rules that are being proposed, as well,” said state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra.
Also up for review are content standards for driver education and information and communication technology. But so far, all the focus has been on the science standards.
After the House Education Committee insisted on deleting the five sections from the standards – leaving the other 370 sections intact – the Senate Education Committee, after hearing strong testimony against the move, asked House members to reconsider, but they declined. So the Senate panel went along; if the two houses had taken differing positions, Idaho would have reverted back to its previous science standards, which hadn’t been updated since 2001.
The five sections are on biodiversity, climate change, and humans’ impact on the environment.
Ybarra told the Senate panel that her preference was to adopt the standards as-is; they were developed by a 19-member panel of the state’s top science teachers, scientists and education officials, and were vetted in six public hearings and supported in 400 written public comments before being approved by the state Board of Education. But she said reverting to 2001 standards would be worse than deleting the five sections. “We need standards that reflect the reality of today,” Ybarra told senators.
The standards set minimum benchmarks for what students should learn in school each year; they don’t prevent schools from teaching additional topics beyond those.
But the lawmakers’ queasiness with the climate change standards raised eyebrows around the state this year. After the five sections were rejected, an informational hearing about climate change organized by Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, drew the largest crowd of any hearing of the legislative session this year, with 650 people spilling out of the Capitol’s largest hearing room and into four overflow rooms.
“The people of Idaho think it’s important, and they think it should be taught to our kids,” Rubel told the House. “This is critically important to our economy and to our quality of life, and to be stripping it out of our (science) standards is moving in exactly the wrong direction. … This is not a matter on which there is scientific doubt.”
Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, a first-year representative who led the move in the House to reject the sections, said, “The standards said humans are bad – basically, that’s what it said, humans are bad, didn’t talk about any mitigating factors, any science to describe what we can do to make things better.”
Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who plans to attend Thursday’s meeting, said, “I would just hope that we can keep the politics out.” He said he supports teaching school kids about climate change, but said he thought the standards implied that “global warming and climate change is all the fault of man and industry – I’m not so sure it is, and we should have further discussions about that.”
During the Senate Education Committee’s hearing on the science standards, Jen Pierce, a professor of geosciences at Boise State University whose research focuses on climate change, said, “Ice caps don’t have a political agenda, they just melt. Forest fires don’t have a political agenda, they just burn. Scientists don’t have a political agenda. We are just trying to educate the people about the state of our planet and what we are doing about it.”
Ybarra said Monday, “We encourage attendance at the public hearings as we work to bring the science standards before the legislature during the 2018 session for final consideration.”
Helen Price, rules specialist for the state Department of Education, said comments at the public meetings will be recorded and considered in the process. Written comments also are being accepted online through April 26.
“Any interested person is welcome to come down and provide a written comment or provide a verbal comment,” Price said.
Following the initial round of public comment, the 19-member panel will reconvene to consider the input and discuss possible changes to the standards.