Committee member wants to know if committee had power

Thursday, December 23rd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A member of state textbook committee has asked Attorney General Drew Edmondson to decide whether the committee has the authority to order an evolution disclaimer on school science textbooks. Lynne Machado, an elementary school teacher in the Western Heights School District in Oklahoma City, requested the opinion on Tuesday.

Ms. Machado is a member of the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee. She asked for the opinion in a one-sentence request: "Does the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee have the authority to adopt a disclaimer to be placed in textbooks, such as the disclaimer adopted by the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee on November 5, 1999?" "I just have some questions and concerns about the authority of what we can do as a committee," she said.

The committee decision requires some new biology textbooks to carry a disclaimer that evolution is a "controversial theory" that can refer "to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things." The decision has brought criticism from education groups, scientists and even some religious groups.

Supporters have gathered signatures of people thanking the committee for its stance. The Baptist General Convention and some independent evangelical churches support the disclaimer. The committee has called a special meeting Dec. 30 at the Capitol with members of the committee planning to meet privately" for confidential communications between the committee and its attorney regarding disclaimer for certain textbooks."

State law requires meetings of governmental bodies such as the textbook committee be open to the general public except to discuss certain sensitive matters. Those include personnel, minors, real estate transactions and litigation. Such discussions may take place in what is called executive session, meaning the public is excluded, but executive sessions must be posted as part of a meeting agenda, and no binding decisions are permitted during executive sessions.

Early in the Nov. 5 meeting, Ms. Machado and Valerie Ingram, a Norman teacher, defended students' rights to learn about evolution, according to audio tapes of the meeting, the Tulsa World reported. Both eventually voted for the disclaimer and the committee's decision was unanimous.