It seemed like a softball question.
Should teachers in the Saint Louis Public Schools teach creationism and intelligent design in the classroom alongside evolution?
Yet surprisingly, the firm “no” responses only came from three of six Saint Louis Public School (SLPS) Board of Education candidates who were present at the forum on Monday, March 25. The debate was moderated by the League of Women Voters and hosted by the St. Louis Young Democrats and Democrat groups for the 5th, 7th and 15th Wards.
One candidate – Barbara A. Anderson – said that schools should teach both.
“I believe that creationism and evolution can possibly fit into the same curriculum,” said Anderson, a longtime SLPS educator. “Where do I think they belong? Science, social studies.”
Anderson said that the district’s job is to “disseminate information, not opinions.”
“It’s not up to us to tell our children what they should and should not know,” Anderson said. “We should teach them everything.”
A vague response came from Louis C. Cross III, a 40-year veteran of SLPS as a physical education instructor, guidance counselor and academic instructional coach.
“If it’s under the right heading, I think it’s certainly something that could be addressed and should be addressed,” Cross said, “so that all students can understand all aspects.”
However, he did not specify what the “right heading” would be.
Retired U.S. Air Force Officer David Merideth is an SLPS alum, and several of his 11 children are SLPS students or graduates. He hoped the question was based on the discussion currently happening in the state Legislature regarding bills to bring Bible school into the schools.
“Evolution is a scientific theory; therefore it should be taught in science,” Merideth said. “Theory is not always correct. It can change over time. Creationism are not scientific theories, they are religious studies.”
Many public schools offer elective classes that delve into different religions, he said.
“I don’t think we should change that at all,” Merideth said.
Tracee Miller, who worked in SLPS as a middle-school math teacher, said that she strongly agreed with Meredith. Miller currently works at Khan Academy, which provides free instructional videos and practice exercises that can be used in and outside classrooms worldwide.
“There’s no doubt that religion has had an important role in the formation of society,” she said, “but I do believe they belong separate.”
Adam Layne, a former Teach For America corps member at the SLPS school Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, said that “the separation of church and state is still in effect.” Layne, who is currently on the board of the new Kairos Academy charter school, said he knows that many SLPS families attend local churches. But he doesn’t believe Bible studies need to be brought into the classroom.
William Haas, a former SLPS board member for four terms and longtime educator, did not address the question directly, saying that creationism and intelligent design were the “least of our problems.”
One candidate, Dan McCready, who works at KIPP Victory Academy Schools, a charter school, was not present at the forum.
At the forum, candidates largely agreed that encouraging more engagement with parents and families needed to be a key part of the elected board’s role. They also agreed that retaining and recruiting qualified teachers was paramount. The forum also touched on ways to provide services for homeless and low-income families, among other topics.
In the Tuesday, April 2 general municipal election, seven candidates will vie for two open spots on the SLPS Board of Education. Incumbents Charli Cooksey and Katie Wessling are not running for re-election.
The seven-member elected school board is soon expected to take back governance of the district. For more than 10 years, a three-member appointed board has governed the district after it lost accreditation.
The St. Louis Young Democrats livestreamed the March 25 forum, and the video can be viewed on the group’s Facebook page.