Creationist speaker stirs controversy at Hugoton schools

4/24/2013

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

USD 210 Hugoton Schools Superintendent Mark Crawford allowed a

creationist speaker into public schools this week, despite the American

Civil Liberties Union calling the assemblies unconstitutional.

The stipulation was that the speaker not mention creationism or any

topics related to the age of the Earth or the Bible, according to

district officials.

Matt Miles, of the Creation Truth Foundation, followed those

guidelines during his presentations Monday to elementary school students

and Tuesday to middle and high school students. The district said

Miles' talks during the day were on behalf of the Foundation for the

Advancement of Childhood Education.

But the Creation Truth Foundation website shows the daytime talks on

its own events calendar online. Miles is listed on the calendar as

speaking at Hugoton schools. The calendar lists "school programs"

planned for Monday and Tuesday morning and public presentations for

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening. Miles' co-speaker is Creation

Truth Foundation founder G. Thomas Sharp, the calendar says.

According to Miles' biography on the Creation Truth Foundation

website, he is a missionary and teacher of Biblical origins who has

"developed an excellent program in Biblical astronomy."

The Creation Truth website features articles such as "Darwin was

wrong," and offers The Truth in Science curriculum "designed to

strengthen students' faith and enhance their relationship with God,

while allowing them to be academically sound in the areas of science and

objective reasoning," according to the website.

The philosophy under the website's Institute of Biblical Worldview

says the secular beliefs and non belief in the Bible have led to world

problems.

Miles' speech on Tuesday was about fossils, the naming of dinosaurs,

and how and where fossils and dinosaurs were found. He also discussed

various explanations for the extinction of dinosaurs.

Miles explained how fossils are formed. He also showed Far Side cartoons as part of his talk.

"First and foremost, we're going to talk about fossils. They're

rocks? Have they always been rocks? No. They used to be organic

material, they used to be bone, they used to be this, or that," he said.

He also talked about their formation, but didn't specify the age of the fossils on display.

"How fossils are formed: something dies, is buried, and over some

period of time that organic material gets replaced with minerals and

stone around it — it petrifies it, if you will," he said.

Miles challenged students and told them to do well in school and said

perhaps one day they could make contributions to science. He also urged

the students to visit natural history museums, including the Sternberg

Museum in Hays. He told students to explore and enjoy the world around

them.

In an interview prior to Tuesday's presentation, Crawford said he

didn't know what scientific background Miles had, just that he

represented an educational organization.

He is the student worldview director for the Creation Truth Foundation, according to the website.

Three district science teachers declined comment after the assembly Tuesday as an administrator observed the interview.

Community members invited the Creation Truth Foundation to Hugoton

for evening events and asked whether Miles also could give presentations

during the school day. Miles was allowed to speak at the school only if

he stuck to school-appropriate material.

Crawford said the speech was within the guidelines the district set forth for Miles.

"Matt is a former Hugoton resident. People know him and trust him. However, we still had him sign the memorandum," he said.

One of the residents who suggested Miles come to Hugoton was Renee

Beesley, wife of the USD 210 president of the Board of Education, Don

Beesley. Renee Beesley, who was in attendance Tuesday, declined to

comment and Don Beesley was emailed and called and did respond.

Crawford said he informed each building principal that students could opt out of the assemblies. He said none did.

Science teachers sent concerned emails to Crawford about the

information matching state science standards and guidelines, according

to Crawford.

"And we did. It was in line," Crawford said. "As a superintendent, I

am well versed in state and federal case law. And yes, it would be

inappropriate for our instructors to teach a creationist/Biblical

worldview. We respect those laws."

The three assemblies took place Monday and Tuesday. Crawford was

apprehensive about allowing media into the assembly, saying the general

public is not allowed into any assembly.

"We do not like that this created a media stir," he said. "However,

in six years as a citizen of Hugoton, I've learned the parents and

citizens here in this community want their children to also be curious

about other viewpoints of creation and origin."

Crawford said in Miles' talks, the students had the opportunity to

view fossils and dinosaur replicas they might not be able to see

elsewhere.

"Because of our geographic location, the closest museum is in Hays which is 3.5 hours away," Crawford said.

The free assembly allowed students to view artifacts, like fossils

and bones they might not otherwise have access to also allowed an

exhibit to come to Hugoton, instead of the district having to pay travel

costs, he said.

He said students are beginning to catch the negative light that

regional, state and national news outlets have cast on the school

district.

Some students enjoyed the presentation Tuesday and were oblivious to the controversy.

Both Maria Martinez and Alyson Kiley, freshmen, said they found the presentation exciting.

"I thought it was really cool. I liked that I got to learn a little

more about dinosaurs. I had no idea that they can be 185 feet long. I

don't think I would have imagined that. Dinosaurs are bigger than what I

would have expected, I guess," Martinez said.

"I found it very exciting. Whenever I found out this presentation was

coming to Hugoton, I flipped. I have never seen anything like this,

this close," Kiley said.

Crawford said it was important to remain positive and stand up to the

ACLU. He said the organization didn't trust Hugoton officials to

regulate the assembly.

"I needed to be an example to Hugoton students of how to handle a bully," he said, referring to the ACLU.

"This powerful organization was misinformed, and their main objective

was to intimidate me and my BOE and shut the school assemblies down."

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