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E-mail inundates State BOE

March 5, 2001 

State Board of Education members are getting the message loud and clear from both sides about their decision last month to include evolution in science standards.

They have received thousands of e-mails in the wake of that 7-3 vote, which reversed a 1999 decision that downplayed evolution and attracted national and international attention to the Sunflower State.

The new standards describe evolution as a theory unifying all scientific disciplines and include references to geologic time and the big bang theory of the universe's creation. State assessments --which students across Kansas take every year -- are based on the state standards.

Sue Gamble of Johnson County, who voted in the majority, said that since the Feb. 14 vote she has received more than 900 e-mails about the decision, with most of them in favor of it.

"I certainly wasn't expecting quite this much," she said.

Board member Harold Voth of Haven, who voted against the new standards, said much of the feedback he received came from out of state. Other board members had similar experiences.

"I was just stunned by that (the number of e-mails from non-Kansans)," Voth said. "A lot of them were in favor of what the board had done. Yet there were some equally critical of what the board had done."

Board member John Bacon of Olathe, who sided with Voth and Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, has also received many e-mails.

Most of the ones he received "were all congratulating the board for allowing Kansas to teach evolution," he said.

But the far-reaching effect the board's decision had on people from as far away as Japan, Greece, New Zealand and Germany astonished Gamble.

Her e-mails were overwhelmingly positive, she said, with less than a hundred being negative.

Many simply said, "Thank you for standing up for good solid education," she said. "Thank you for standing up for what's right for kids."

She added that a perception exists that board members were getting hate mail. "That is absolutely false," she said.

None of her messages have been hateful or threatening, she said.

Board member Carol Rupe of Wichita, who also voted in the majority, said she received a few e-mails and letters after the vote that called her "un-Christian" and "un-American."

Rupe also received more than 800 e-mails from scientists and educators around the world, including the head of the biology department at Yale University.

"It has been absolutely unbelievable to me," she said.

Gamble has responded to every one of her messages, she said, although she became more succinct with her replies as more e-mails poured in every day.

She spent many hours in front of her computer the weekend after the vote, she said.

"My goal is to answer every one of them." She said anyone who felt strongly enough about the issue to contact the board deserves a reply.

The worldwide support for the vote -- coming from educators, ministers and even a farmer from Iowa -- has been heartening to Gamble and Rupe, who both campaigned last fall promising to put evolution into the standards.

"That's a nice affirmation (of their action), but I knew I was doing the right thing to begin with," Rupe said.

One e-mail from Eugenie Scott, executive director of National Center for Science Education in El Cerrito, Calif., particularly touched Gamble.

It said, in part, "Your science education standards are now a model for the rest of the nation, and you can be proud of them."

© 2001 The Wichita Eagle

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