State rebukes evolution foe

An Education Department official used her position to oppose the science standard.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 8, 2007

The debate over evolution, creation and Florida's science standards has grown increasingly heated as a decision nears, and a state Department of Education manager who has waded into it now finds herself in hot water.

Selena "Charlie" Carraway, program manager for the department's Office of Instructional Materials, recently used her personal e-mail on personal time to send a missive urging fellow Christians to fight the proposal to include evolution as a "key idea" in the science curriculum.

But she invoked her position as a way to, in her words, "give this e-mail credibility." And that, it turns out, is a no-no.

"It is inappropriate for any department employee to use their public position to advocate their personal positions," department spokesman Tom Butler said Friday. "Ms. Carraway has been counseled."

That means human resources personnel met with Carraway and warned her not to do this again, but she remains on the job.

That's quite a different result than the one that befell the Texas Education Agency's director of science for a similar situation.

Last month, Christine Comer was forced to resign from her job in Texas after forwarding an e-mail announcement of a speech by an author who favored teaching evolution. In several articles, Comer blamed evolution politics for her fate in Texas, which also is reviewing its science standards.

Observers familiar with both situations said it looked like Carraway, more than Comer, had done something deserving of reprimand. They praised the Florida Education Department for acting with restraint.

"They behaved with much more proportionality," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the pro-evolution National Center for Science Education. "Indeed, Ms. Carraway should not use her public position to promote her religious position. ... Now she has a second chance, and hopefully she'll behave more responsibly."

Joe Wolf, president of the pro-evolution Florida Citizens for Science, agreed.

"I think she's allowing her religious beliefs to interfere with her public duty," Wolf said. "I wish she hadn't done it. But I think it's an internal matter."

Scott and Wolf both observed that such restraint can be difficult in this charged atmosphere.

Carraway did not respond to several requests for an interview. Butler said he confirmed that the e-mail in question, which has been widely distributed across Florida, came from her.

Here's how she introduced herself:

"My name is Charlie Carraway, and I'm a member of Sopchoppy Southern Baptist Church, Sopchoppy, Florida, but I also work for the Florida Department of Education as the Director of the Office of Instructional Materials," Carraway wrote. "That means I oversee the adoption process of books and materials in the state, and I work in close proximity to the folks in the Office of Mathematics and Science, who have been in charge of the revision of the science standards. I say all of this, obviously, to give this e-mail credibility."

Carraway detailed the proposed standards, which have won accolades from scientists, and provided ways to contact the State Board of Education.

"Once these become adopted standards and benchmarks, FCAT assessment will be based on them," she wrote. "Districts will not have a choice in teaching evolution as a theory, but will be expected to teach it as stated in these standards, big ideas, and benchmarks. ... Whose agenda is this and will the Christians in Florida care enough to do something about it?"

She ended by urging recipients to lobby against the standards, ending, "The least we can do is make sure evolution is presented to our children and grandchildren as a theory as it has been in the past. Hopefully, though, we can do better than that." Carraway was not part of the committee that recommended the science standards.

Carraway is just the latest public official to get embroiled in the controversy, which has gained national attention. The Polk County School Board has stated it might allow alternatives to evolution to be in its schools, and State Board of Education member Donna Callaway gained attention for her statement that evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origins of life."

The State Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposed science standards early in 2008. The public can comment on the proposals through Dec. 14 at www.flstandards.org.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.