Cheney School District suspended a teacher without pay for two days this week for showing a videotape and arranging a guest speaker on creationism.
The teacher ignored prior warnings not to teach religion, said Superintendent Phil Snowdon in a letter to the teacher.
Science teacher Aaron Mason said Tuesday he did not teach religion to eighth-grade classes on June 5 and 6.
He did present an alternative theory to the textbook’s lessons on evolution and a 4.6-billion-year-old Earth.
“Let’s present science facts that support both these theories,” he said.
Mason, 30, who has taught at Cheney Middle School six years, admitted he did not follow the district’s procedure for guest speakers. He turned in a required form late.
“That’s my mistake and I need to be held accountable,” he said.
He added that he brought in the same guest speaker last year without objection from the school district. Neither Mason nor Snowdon would comment about prior warnings to Mason about teaching religion.
This year, parent Steve McGrew complained after his son came home talking about the class. McGrew could not be reached for comment.
Cheney teachers have a section of their contract on academic freedom, which protects free speech.
But the contract requires prior administrative approval for guest speakers on controversial topics and states that academic freedom can be exercised only “within the framework of the district-approved curriculum.”
“In this circumstance the procedure was not followed, which is why we advised Aaron to go along with the decision,” said Mike McKeehan, Cheney teachers union president.
The videotape and guest speaker supported a controversial theory that the Earth is much younger than mainstream scientists believe - ideas that are not part of the district’s science program, Snowdon said.
So-called “young-earth creationists” believe the Bible and scientific evidence date the Earth’s creation to only thousands or millions of years ago.
Rates of magnetic decay, erosion and the ocean’s salt content support a younger earth, said Jim Marisch, who spoke to Mason’s class June 6.
“I told them as far as the formation of the Earth, there are two theories: One’s evolution and one’s creationism,” said Marisch, a retired military man who heads Creation Outreach, a Spokane group that sponsors workshops.
“There’s no third position. Either the Earth formed slowly or very quickly. They could make up their own minds.”
Marisch has spoken to classes in other public schools without a problem, he said.
He talked about cataclysmic formations in geology at Spokane’s Rogers High School in 1994 and 1995, he said. He spoke about dinosaurs to fourth-graders at Chester Elementary in Central Valley in 1994.
“There’s a lot of things we don’t know about dinosaurs. We don’t know that they lived millions of years ago,” he said.
Rogers High School Principal Wallace Williams did not recall Marisch’s visit, but said he may have spoken at the school.
Chester Elementary Principal Dennis Olson heard Marisch’s presentation and found it “thought-provoking.”
“He didn’t come in with a Bible in his left hand and a lesson in his right hand,” Olson said. “This was a different viewpoint based on science.”
Olson said he approved Marisch’s visit to the Valley school, which was requested by several parents. He supports sharing alternative viewpoints with students, he said.
Just because a theory has been published in a textbook, Olson said, “do we as educators have to buy that hook, line and sinker? I have a hard time with that.”
Sherry Campbell, a Cheney parent, said she supports Mason.
“It doesn’t sound like religious proselytizing at all, but just another possibility about the age of the earth,” she said.
But the young-earth theory is bad science, said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit group based in Berkeley, Calif.
“The evidence against young-earth creationism is overwhelming,” Scott said.
The group has tracked a steady increase in cases of creationism taught in public schools. This year, attempts to pass laws that would have promoted teaching creationism or restricted teaching evolution failed in Ohio, Tennessee and Georgia, she said.
“This gives textbook publishers the willies,” Scott said. “We’re worried we’ll see them wimping out on evolution again as they have in the past.”
Stephen Meyer, a Whitworth College associate professor and an advocate of intelligent design theory, the idea that biological complexities suggest an intelligent creator, said dogmatism about evolution stifles children’s interest in science.
Meyer said he sees no reason to censure the Cheney teacher, although he rejects the young-earth view.
“I’m definitely an old-earth guy,” Meyer said. “In my opinion, the evidence overwhelming supports the great antiquity of the Earth.”