About 100 people crammed into a Boise hotel conference room Tuesday night to sound off on the temporary science standards approved earlier this year.
Everyone who spoke publicly or participated in interviews with Idaho Education News supported leaving the full slate of standards intact, including references to human impact on the environment and climate change.
The 2017 Legislature approved temporary science standards for public schools and charters, after first removing five standards referencing human impact on the environment and climate change.
“Climate change is arguably the most important challenge that confronts our generation and many generations to come,” Boise State University associate professor Jennifer Pierce said. “So to not teach our students about climate change, as well as evolution and biodiversity, puts them at a handicap when it comes to addressing challenges they will face in the future.”
Several teachers in attendance said removing climate change references likely won’t affect what is taught in large districts such as Boise. But they worried that skeptical parents or political leaders could challenge lesson plans in smaller districts, leaving teachers and administrators without specific standards and state backing to support them.
Scott Cook, the State Department of Education’s director of academic services, stressed that lawmakers will revisit the issue in 2018. He also suggested the Legislature’s decision likely won’t affect schools this year.
“The reality is, at this time in the school year, schools are not going to change their curriculum with two months more to go,” Cook said. “The most important thing is we give schools and districts clear direction going forward.”
Cook defined standards as the minimum expectations of what students should be expected to learn and know during a school year.
Parent Jeremy Schroeder became interested in the issue after learning the Legislature removed the references to climate change.
“They should have to follow the experts (who developed the science standards),” Schroeder said. “If they think that teaching climate change and trying to enact policies around climate change will affect the economy or something, then they should say that. To just deny climate change to reach their goals isn’t correct.”
Several people also expressed confusion about why the Legislature even had the ability to partially reject standards. For years the Legislature has enjoyed that power, and in November Idaho voters approved a state constitutional amendment known as HJR 5. The amendment specifically grants legislators the ability to approve or reject (in whole or in part) any administrative rule, which includes academic standards. HJR 5 also specifies that the Legislature’s action on rules is not subject to a gubernatorial veto.
Tuesday’s meeting was the fourth and best-attended in a series of six planned hearings. Every chair in the room was taken, and several people stood against the wall, stood inside of doorways or sat on the floor to make room.
Last week, just five people attended a similar hearing in Idaho Falls.
Boise’s crowd included a mix of parents, teachers, citizens and members of the scientific community. Those in attendance included Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, and Caldwell Superintendent Shalene French.
Upcoming content standards hearings schedule (all events run from 6 to 8 p.m. local time.)
- Wednesday, Lewiston, Lewis-Clark State College, Clearwater River Meeting Room, 500 Eighth Ave.
- Thursday, Coeur d’Alene, Coeur d’Alene Resort, Coeur d’Alene Meeting Room, 115 S. Second St.