Backers of intelligent design ousted

Pa. town votes out 8 school board members who initiated change in science curriculum

November 10, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DOVER, PA. -- In the end, voters in Dover said they were tired of being portrayed as a northern version of Dayton, Tenn., a Bible Belt hamlet where 80 years ago a biology teacher named John Scopes was tried for illegally teaching evolution.

On Tuesday, the residents of Dover ousted all eight school board members running for re-election who had put their town in a global spotlight - and their school district on trial - for being the first in the nation to introduce intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in science class. In swept the full Dover CARES slate of eight candidates, which had coalesced to oppose the change in the science curriculum.

"I think the people of Dover are tired of the attention over such a minuscule thing, and they want a change," said Lonny Langione, who had served on the school board in years past and supported the challengers. "A lot of the people I talked to were upset because the school board [used] taxpayer money to advance their own agenda."

Before it took up intelligent design, Dover was a typical American town experiencing typical American growing pains: family farmers selling out to developers, fields sprouting McMansions, overcrowded classrooms, SUVs speeding down roads built for tractors.

By wading into the great reawakening of a national debate over the teaching of evolution, the town of Dover was diverted from bread-and-butter issues and found itself divided in surprising ways.

The lines were not neatly drawn. Christians who belonged to the same church found themselves on opposite sides. Fathers quarreled with sons. Next-door neighbors posted dueling lawn signs. Registered Republicans cast their party affiliations aside to run with the victorious Dover CARES slate when election rules forced all eight of its candidates to run on the Democratic line.

Voters themselves crossed party lines to vote for the candidates they favored. If they had not, the school board incumbents, all of whom ran on the Republican line, probably would have prevailed in a district where 70 percent of voters are registered Republicans.

"It really did pit neighbor against neighbor," said Connie LaCoe, an elementary school teacher who has lived in the community for 30 years.

In the end, the election was close. Only 26 votes separated the winner of one seat from his rival.

"I'm surprised that we won all eight seats," said the Rev. Warren Eshbach, the spokesman for Dover CARES, whose son, Robert, was among the winning candidates. "It shows what good bipartisanship can do."

The election came four days after closing arguments in a six-week trial of the Dover school board and administrators in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, about 25 miles to the northeast. Eleven parents had sued the Dover board on constitutional grounds, claiming that intelligent design was an outgrowth of religious creationism. The case will be decided by Judge John E. Jones III, who said he expected to rule by early January.

The majority of voters rejected the school board's argument that they were only trying to expose students to a variety of theories about the development of living organisms. The policy did not actually tell teachers to teach intelligent design, just to mention it in a four-paragraph statement to be read to students.

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