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Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism?

A friend of mine posted about this on Facebook, wondering if it’s legal. The Byron Center Charter School in the Grand Rapids area apparently thinks it can teach creationism in science classrooms. This is from the Google cache of its website last week:

Religion

Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion, it can however, teach both creation and evolution as a theory, and use the Bible as a historical reference.

No, you can’t teach creation. You’re a public charter school, funded by the state, and you have to follow the same rules as public schools, including the Supreme Court ruling in Edwards v Aguillard. I suspect their lawyer told them that, or someone tipped them off to it, because you’ll notice that they removed that language from their website this week. But I think it’s still worth finding out what materials they’re using in their science classrooms. I bet they’re using creationist material. Someone needs to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out.

Comments

  1. walton says

    Dumb fundies. Caught again. Fined again (I hope). Stupid ought to be expensive.

    Huh? Surely fining a school will only hurt the students by depriving them of resources?

    I’m all for stopping them teaching creationist nonsense, but I don’t really see how a fine would help. (Unless you mean that the principal should be personally fined, which would be fairer, although still rather harsh.)

  2. eric says

    How long until the not-pology? “We’re sorry our lesson plan showed up on Google cache, and we will make every effort in the future to prevent that from happening again.”

  3. says

    Can FOIA requests be sent to individual schools?

    I was looking at sending FOIA requests to the US congresscritters to get the numbers of calls and e-mails associated with SOPA and PIPA that they got. But, according to what I read, you can’t send FOIA requests to congress people.

    In fact, after reading the stuff, I was pretty shocked at what limited things are available for FOIA requests. Maybe I misread though.

  4. MikeMa says

    walton,
    I don’t like the school or the students losing funding and I do absolutely believe the principals and possibly the school boards ought to be held accountable personally for yet again doing something which has been judged illegal many times. I just don’t think many administrators or school boards have been sued successfully. If there is no penalty, then parents will continue to pay for (and possibly insist on) substandard science education.

    Teaching creationism as science is illegal. It will continue to be illegal. To advocate and promote an illegal thing is illegal. We need laws to make the administrators and school boards personally responsible for costs and penalties associated with illegal action when they are sued for advocating this crap. Again. Triple penalties if they do it against legal advice.

  5. D. C. Sessions says

    I bet they’re using creationist material. Someone needs to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out.

    All very interesting but totally moot unless there’s a plaintiff with standing to prosecute it. Much easier to do with a public school than with a charter school, where the students are to varying degrees self-selected. If the school markets itself as a “back to basics” school (i.e. “fundamentalist”) then it’s quite possible that it’s already hostile to anyone who would even mildly object, much less object strongly enough to actually take a stand rather than just go to another school.

  6. raven says

    LOL. I’ve seen that once before.

    Charter school is formed by xian fundies who decide the public school is an agent of satan.

    Charter school teaches creationism. Gets caught.

    Charter school loses charter and state funding.

    They don’t care even though it cost them millions of dollars. They don’t care that their kids are getting a substandard education. They don’t care that their kids will probably end up poor and struggling all their life.

    Fundies set their kids up to fail. Then they fail. Not all the time but fundies are low on the socioeconomic ladder.

  7. MikeMa says

    @DC
    I agree on the role standing plays but with the recent RI case where Jessica Alquist has not only withstood the onslaught of christian love but has emerged as a hero and with a college fund to boot, there might be some leverage to get a student with standing to complain. Fame and glory are not the best reasons to act but anything to topple the christian hegemony is okay with me.

  8. abb3w says

    Google Cache seems to have expired to the current version; Archive.org still has the “teach both creation and evolution as a theory” version from June 2011.

  9. says

    @2 walton
    @5 MikeMa

    This is a charter school, not a public school, by the way. Isn’t one of the arguments for charter schools is that they’ll allow parents more choice of where they get to send their children to school? And thus the “free market” will have an impact on these schools. So, bad schools are to fail and good schools are to succeed. If the school then loses resources over this, then tough luck, right? They shouldn’t have been a bad school. The parents will just need to go about picking a differnt, better school to send their children to.

    (To be clear, I am mocking the idea of charter schools a little bit, as they have been claimed by many on the right to be the solution to improving our education system.)

  10. raven says

    Legal standing is a bit tricky here.

    The best would be a student at the school

    A Michigan taxpayer might work. A taxpayer in the school district would be better. Property taxes are high and much of that goes to local schools. State taxes are high and much of that goes to schools as well.

    If you are involuntarily paying a lot of money to support this Charter school, you should have standing.

    Who would be able to inquire and get an answer is the state officials involved with education. Out here on the coast, they might well look into it, and if they are pushing a cult xianity, cancel their charter and funding. The’ve done it before. Don’t know about Michigan, they might just close their eyes and pretend they didn’t see it.

  11. marcantony says

    Has anyone checked out their student handbook? It opens rather ominously as well:

    Byron Center Charter School focuses on character values and academics. BCCS
    believes that to teach a child created by God is a noble calling; that throughout life,
    parents are a child’s first teachers with the primary right and responsibility for their
    child’s education.
    BCCS believes a quality education is rooted in character,
    competence, academic excellence and hard work. The School seeks to assist a child to
    develop self-esteem and self-respect.

  12. eric says

    All very interesting but totally moot unless there’s a plaintiff with standing to prosecute it.

    Interesting point. Though I vaguely recall there’s been a recent, similar case; a charter school offering creationism to a predominantly fundie audience, but one student opposes it. I think it was out west – Nevada or Arizona or someplace like that. Its not out of the question that there may be some kids in the Michigan school who were sent there because the parents truly believed it was a better alternative to the local public school, not because they wanted God in their science class.

    Ironically, the challenge I’m vaguely recalling happened because the charter school system was operating as promoted. I.e., the kid was from a low-income family and the parents chose the charter school out of safety or educational reasons, rather than ideological ones. Its funny in a ‘hoist by your own petard’ kind of way. (A small group of) conservatives demand more choice as a way of sneaking their ideology into school, but then get that ideology smacked down by people sincerely exercising that choice.

  13. gvlgeologist says

    I found this:
    “BCCS believes that to teach a child created by God is a noble calling;… ”

    in their website, which on the face of it seems an illegal endorsement of religion.

  14. eric says

    Off-topic but involving the 1st amendment and a Michigan University:

    Easter Michigan expelled a student counselor for refusing to counsel a gay student. The expellee claims religious discrimination. The original court ruled against her; an appeals court just sent the decision back for a re-do.

    Based solely on the linked article (I have no more info), this sounds like a typical example of the student not understandnig the difference between private belief and on-the-job performance. Though I do wonder why the school felt the need to expel her; why not just fire her from that job? If its reqired for her major, tell her she’s going to have to switch majors as long as she’s unwilling to counsel certain students.

  15. juice says

    Much easier to do with a public school than with a charter school…

    This is a charter school, not a public school…

    Charter schools are public schools. They aren’t run directly by the government, but they are public schools.

  16. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

    @Ogremk5 (and Ed)…

    Freedom of information (note the capitalization) requests can be used for public schools in most cases. FOIA requests are largely useless.

    Why?

    FOIA is a federal law and is so limited in part because it cannot regulate the release of information by state & local agencies. However every state in the nation has some form of FOI-type law. They generally do apply to government schools. They do not include personnel or student files, but that wouldn’t be the case here.

    So ed should have said “freedom of information request” and not “FOIA request” but it amounts to the same thing.

  17. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

    Oh.. and whether this is legal or not depends on the structure of charter schools in MI. I don’t know what the relationship is between the state and BCCS, so the answer to that question is not obvious.

    ***However*** if they are right in saying that they are not allowed to endorse specific religions, and if that prohibition comes from the Federal 1st Amendment (not from a law about charter schools or something), then it would likely require a judicial hernia to say that there relationship to the state is close enough to prevent endorsement but not close enough to prevent teaching creationism as science or the Bible as historical fact. Those things were forbidden specifically because they create de facto (and, by definition, de jure) endorsement. So saying that endorsement is prohibited but endorsement is allowed? I think that would be truly bizarre.

  18. raven says

    The school district (Sisters, Oregon) has gotten in trouble before for blurring the line between church and state. The State of Oregon is witholding $1.2 million in state school funds that had been earlier paid out for a disallowed homeschool program that involved students at the local private Christian school.

    In some states they will stop the funding and pull the charter if a school teaches creationism.

    Don’t know about Michigan though. Given their present Tea Party government, it would be a tough one.

  19. Michael Heath says

    raven:

    Don’t know about Michigan though. Given their present Tea Party government, it would be a tough one.

    I suggest changing news sources.

  20. exdrone says

    Why don’t these schools just cover the creation material in comparative religions class? Then in science class during the evolution section they could just say, “Well, Johnny, why don’t you ask Miss Smith that question in the next period?” It’s far easier to hide how subjectively you’re covering accepted curriculum material than whether objectively you’re covering unacceptable material. After all, they’re being knowingly disingenuous as it is.

  21. eric says

    exdrone:

    Why don’t these schools just cover the creation material in comparative religions class?

    There’s at least two and a half reasons why fundies don’t like that solution. :)

    The first is colloquially termed “physics envy.” Modern society gives huge importance/deference to science. They know this. They know that learning their idea as religion and evolution as a scientific theory is generally not going to undermine acceptance of evolution. WHen the two classes offer contradictory stories, your typical 20th century student target of evangelism (i.e. nonbeliever) is going to trust what they learn in science class more than what they learn in the comparative religion class.

    The second is that comparative religion classes are electives, while science is pretty much mandatory for any student planning on going to college. Since their goal is evangelism, it makes sense that they’d like their idea to be put in front of everyone, not just those students who are already self-motivated to study it.

    The half (because its very closely related to #2): there have in fact been districts that have offered elective classes on design or (comparative) creationism stories. Those classes have shut down from lack of interest in a year or two…even in very religious districts! Pragmatically, the fundies have to find a way to force it into the mandatory curriculum, because if they don’t, very few students will ever actually take such a class.

  22. says

    Walton –

    It would be nice if not fining the school would remedy the problem, but it wouldn’t. Best case scenario, the school gets shut down altogether. I am somewhat biased by having had a very unpleasant experience with a charter school, but have noted that with very few exceptions they are complete shit.

    Crype Dyke –

    Charter schools are public schools and the laws and constitutional provisions governing public schools absolutely apply to charter schools. The problem is that charter schools are small, with a sharply limited student population. In theory any student in the district should have equal access to the available slots, in practice they play a lot of games to help limit access, including keeping their very existence as quiet as they can legally get away with.

  23. Chris from Europe says

    Re MH on Snyder:
    Okay, I’ve found the statement in the other thread. So you think he checks the worst impulses and seeks optimal results. What do you say about the anti-gay policies and how his administration seems to target poor African-Americans.

    If one accepts the idea of emergency managers, then there’s still the problem that the austerity measures don’t exclude people that are already vulnerable. They seem to be a tool to get policies implemented that are desired by a certain Michigan think-tank and didn’t have the support of the communities.

  24. Michael Heath says

    Chris from Europe on me thinking Gov. Rick Snyder has been a good governor

    Chris from Europe:

    So you think he checks the worst impulses and seeks optimal results

    My morning newspaper validates this on an almost daily basis, a newspaper which is center-left (Traverse City Record Eagle).

    Chris from Europe:

    What do you say about the anti-gay policies

    This makes no sense to me, so please clarify.

    Chris from Europe:

    . . . how [Gov. Rick Snyder’s] administration seems to target poor African-Americans.

    Pretty weasly Chris with the “seems”. Please elaborate. I prefer keeping my judgments on candidates based on their record and their demonstrated character.

    Chris from Europe:

    If one accepts the idea of emergency managers, then there’s still the problem that the austerity measures don’t exclude people that are already vulnerable. They seem to be a tool to get policies implemented that are desired by a certain Michigan think-tank and didn’t have the support of the communities.

    The communities which are at risk of losing their autonomy are at risk precisely because they’ve become an enormous burden on a state with less marginal state resources to continue to subsidize their gross mismanagement. I doubt anyone outside Detroit is rooting harder for Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council than Gov. Snyder. But the rot within Detroit has sucking resources from the rest of the state since Mayor Coleman Young was mayor and a favorite governor of mine, William Milliken, enabled his doing so – starting in the 1970s. To date the city of Detroit is still avoiding the facts of their predicament while the state becomes increasingly unable to sustain the largesse these cities received and wasted. I’ve been all over the world and in some awfully seedy cities, Detroit and Flint rank with the very worst of them though Flint has taken reform seriously has enjoyed some continual improvement. Only those cities repeatedly bombed look worse than Detroit.

    Lastly, besides the state of Detroit, the issues you bring up where I understood your point are not even remotely important. Our state has been slowly imploding as automotive factory jobs have migrated elsewhere. We’ve lost an enormous number of good paying jobs, people, lost education resources equivalent to several universities, have seen healthcare costs for state employees skyrocket, and have a decaying infrastructure. The governor’s focus and my monitoring of him focuses on these issues.

    Methinks you’re getting your news from Rachel Maddow’s show as if she presents a representative picture of the state’s issues and the performance of our politicians on the issues she addresses. If so, she does not. While I think she can be very good, I’ve also seen her get on a high horse similar to Bill O’Reilly and ride off with all sorts of imagined goings-on. E.g., her repeatedly claiming MI’s 1st U.S. District Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak was obstructing passage of Obamacare in order to make a run for governor in 2010. In spite of the fact the news on Mr. Stupak regarding his political ambitions and his motivation on Obamacare were well known within the state months prior to her reportage/analysis and validated after it was all over.

  25. pelliott says

    FFRF has been looking into this for a few weeks. We submitted a complaint to the school’s chartering authority and a records request. We were told that no records on the use of creation materials or the Bible existed. School Administrator Tom Kruzel stated that the student handbook has been amended to remove the god reference. We are continuing to pursue this matter with the school’s chartering authority as the response from the school is incomplete.

    Patrick Elliott
    FFRF Staff Attorney

  26. Chris from Europe says

    Re LGBT
    http://www.americanindependent.com/208820/michigan-governor-comes-under-fire-for-refusing-to-address-lgbt-issues

    Given the state of LGBT protections in Michigan (super-DOMA, no protection for private employees etc.), any move further in the wrong direction cannot be excused.

    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/08/31/309214/snyder-tanf-corporate-taxes/

    Together with the financial emergancy managers, this means that especially poor African Americans in Michigan face austerity measures from both local and state government. In a state with history of Michigan, can you really separate the financial troubles of these communities with race issues?

    What is to say about the accusation by opponents that the emergency managers are selling off assets under value and are pushing through the Republican agenda where there is no support for it?

  27. Michael Heath says

    Chris from Europe:

    What is to say about the accusation by opponents that the emergency managers are selling off assets under value and are pushing through the Republican agenda where there is no support for it?

    That this is a false framing. That the governor’s tack on the cities in trouble is one supported by the people of Michigan, i.e., he has bipartisan support on this issue, with the exception of the subject cities’ citizens who are in trouble. Where those cities have decades to face their issues and failed to do so while bleeding state coffers. I have yet to meet one liberal who not only supports this measure, but voted for Rick Snyder in this past election. (All the liberals are I know are not the inner-city poor so they are of course not representative of all Michigan liberals. But this governor crossed over in the election and continues to maintain bipartisan support on many issues.)

    Chris – I am a fan of Think Progress, but they are an extremely biased source. Being biased doesn’t mean one is wrong, but in this case they’re doing exactly what Rachel Maddow does, which is create a false context, a strawman, that is ahistorical and not representative of the issues and the support the governor has on this issue.

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