Nebraska Board of Education candidate Stephanie Bohlke-Schulte said she thinks schools should have the option of teaching a “balanced approach” to science that includes creationism as an alternative theory to evolution.

But she said she does not think it should become a part of the state science standards, rather it should be a curriculum decision by local districts, and that “balanced” doesn’t necessarily mean creationism should be given an equal amount of time as evolution.

The issue arose during a candidate interview with members of the Journal Star's editorial board. In a subsequent interview, Bohlke-Schulte said creationism should not be taught as a belief but because there is some scientific foundation for it.

Bohlke-Schulte is one of three candidates in District 1, including most of Lincoln and south and east portions of Lancaster County. 

She spent 26 years in education as a teacher, high school guidance counselor, elementary school principal and two-term member of the Grand Island Public Schools board of education.

Lincoln physician and community health advocate Bob Rauner and Lincoln High teacher Patsy Koch Johns will also appear on the primary ballot in the officially nonpartisan race.

Rauner said he doesn’t think creationism should be a part of the science curriculum. As a religious belief, it could be included in social studies or political science classes that discuss religion in the context of world events, he said.

Koch Johns said it could be mentioned but not as a scientific theory.

"It's a philosophy," she said. "It probably deserves mentioning. It's not based on factual information."

She said she remembers her own high school science teacher mentioning it in the context of how man has always tried to figure out the beginning of life.

Whether creationism should be taught as part of the science curriculum has been a hotly debated -- and litigated -- subject in other states, though it hasn’t come up in Nebraska in recent years. Courts have consistently rejected attempts by states and school districts to teach alternate theories of evolution, including creationism or intelligent design, or attach disclaimers to the topic of evolution.

Bohlke-Schulte said she didn’t see it as an election issue or one upon which she is campaigning. She's able to think objectively, separate personal beliefs and do what's best for kids, she said.

“I’m not driven by some agenda to teach creationism," she said. 

Nor, she said is it an issue that should be addressed by the state because it doesn't mandate curriculum.

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A review of the state science standards by the Nebraska Department of Education and the state board, however, is scheduled to begin this fall.

The Nebraska Board of Education passed the current science standards in 2010 and while there’s no mention of creationism or intelligent design, the standards do specifically address evolution and the big bang theory. The standards say high school students are expected to describe the formation of the universe using the big bang theory, explain the history and evolution of earth and describe the biological theory of evolution.

In recent years, the content of state standards, particularly social studies, has drawn crowds that have advocated for and against various topics including the concept of American exceptionalism and climate change.

James Blake, who was the state education department’s science education director before he became the Lincoln Public Schools science curriculum specialist, said he would advise schools against teaching creationism because of the constitutional issues it raises.

“I would not advise that based on legal precedent alone,” he said.

He suggests teachers follow guidance from the National Academy of Sciences for teaching evolution, which includes a question-and-answer section on religious, legal and educational issues. 

"When a teacher encounters a student who holds a belief that may be outside of science, the teacher should never pit one as right and one as wrong," he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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