Storms joins Darwin debate

The state senator files a bill to protect teachers who present other arguments.

By Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer
Published March 4, 2008

It looks like the Florida Legislature will have its say on the role of evolution in the science classroom, after all.

State Sen. Ronda Storms, a Brandon Republican, has filed what she calls the "Academic Freedom Act" (SB 2692) with a stated goal of "providing public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins."

The bill comes two weeks after the state Board of Education narrowly approved science standards that embrace evolution. In voting against the new standards, board member Donna Callaway said the proposed standards should acknowledge that there is a debate about evolution - and give teachers and students the academic freedom to pursue alternative theories.

In the findings section of the bill, Storms writes that the Legislature finds that many Florida teachers have "experienced or feared discipline, discrimination or other adverse consequences" for presenting a "full range of scientific views" regarding chemical and biological origins.

Her bill would ban penalizing teachers for teaching alternatives and disallow action against students for taking a position on evolution.

There's no related House bill filed yet.

But House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, told the Florida Baptist Witness in a story after the science standards vote that the evolution battle "will go on for quite some time" and that the House "may have sufficient votes" to act on an academic freedom proposal.

Terry Kemple, president of the Brandon-based Community Issues Council, praised the effort. He worked closely with Storms in preparing the legislation.

"Finally teachers and students will have the opportunity to cover all the information regarding the theory of evolution," Kemple said in a news release, in which he also noted that a House member will be filing the same bill.

But Brandon Haught, a blogger for Florida Citizens for Science, calls the proposal typical grandstanding and predicts the bill will go nowhere: "This bill was written in a way to make it way too obvious what the purpose is, and so it won't be taken seriously."

Still, he writes, it "wouldn't hurt to write to your Florida legislators to let them know what you think of this."