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New Wyoming Science Standards Placed Under Further DOE Review

Anthony Pollreisz, K2 Radio

The Wyoming Board of Education opted to not implement so-called Next Generation Science Standards in place of Wyoming’s decade-old standards Friday, deciding instead to turn back to a Wyoming Department of Education committee for further guidance.

The proposed implementation of the controversial set of standards, which have been fully adopted by 11 other states and the District of Columbia, prevailed as the ultimate sticking point during the nearly seven-hour meeting.

During the recent legislative session, a footnote was added to the biennium budget that essentially blocks the board from considering the standards. It also prohibits further discussion of the standards by the board after July 1.

Board chairperson Ron Micheli says he’s doesn’t know what the education department will do next.

“None of us are sure, but we hope they’ll come back to us with Wyoming standards,” Micheli said after the meeting. “Standards that satisfy the Wyoming citizens and not some national group.”

Board members were uncertain as to what percentage of the NGSS could be included in Wyoming’s revised standards. They also questioned whether essentially copying and pasting standards from another state would serve as a proper way to work around the budget footnote.

Residents in attendance who favored implementation told the board during a roughly 90-minute comment session that it’s critical for Wyoming students to learn about global warming and evolution.

“I guess I’m a survivor of 30 years of trying to create science standards,” former Kelly Walsh High School science teacher and current Natrona County School District trustee Elizabeth Horsch said. “These standards are different because they are very carefully designed for kids to learn through their own efforts.”

Detractors claimed the standards would directly infringe upon religious freedoms. They also said the NGSS would force students to view coal, fossil fuels and production agriculture in a negative light.

Christy Hooley is a former Sweetwater County teacher and represents Wyoming Citizens Opposing Common Core and Citizens for Objective Public Education.

“In September 2013, COPE filed in the 10th District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Wyoming, under the premise that NGSS presents a non-theistic religious world view in contradiction to state and federal constitutional provisions,” Hooley said. “It would be wise for the board to wait on the results of this lawsuit before adopting the NGSS.”

“COPE also includes some solutions to resolve the problems of NGSS – these solutions focus on the teachings of origin science, the cause and nature of life and the universe … and how it should be approached in regard to religious neutrality,” Hooley said.

State lawmakers in attendance also told the board that, if the NGSS were to be implemented, state law would be violated.

“When we pass a law, we do believe it’s for the public good,” Lynn Hutchings, the Republican representative of Wyoming House District 42 said. “I’d like to have the board obey the law and listen to those parents who say they do not want this program.”

According to the website of the National Science Teachers’ Association, the NGSS focuses on certain aspects of life, space and physical science. Students begin to learn about weather in kindergarten, energy in fourth grade, the history of Earth and the human impacts on climate in middle school and sustainability in high school.

The group says the NGSS has officially been adopted by state education departments in Rhode Island, Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland, Vermont, California, Delaware, Washington, Nevada, Oregon and Illinois.

A motion to allow individual school districts to adopt their own science standards failed 6-3. Another motion to stop all further action on the NGSS died after not being seconded. Additionally, a motion to adopt the NGSS fell 6-3.

The first motion for referral back to the state education department failed after five yeas were cast against four nays. Six yeas were needed for passage.

The second motion for referral passed 7-2 after the passage of a motion to reconsider.

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