School officials in Cobb County, Georgia, yesterday agreed to drop their 4-year attempt to tell high school biology students that evolution is only a "theory." Local school officials had fought a ruling by a federal judge to remove stickers that they had placed on textbooks, but yesterday, they threw in the towel, pledging to adhere to the state science curriculum and also to pay $167,000 in legal fees to the plaintiffs. In return, the five parents who brought the suit agreed to drop any further legal action against the school district.
"The case is done, and they have agreed never again to put stickers in the textbooks," says Debbie Seagrave, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Georgia affiliate, which represented the parents in Selman v. Cobb County. School board chair Teresa Plenge said the district decided to forgo "the distraction and expense of starting all over with more legal actions and another trial."
The legal battle began after the school board embraced the arguments of parents who felt the teaching of evolutionary theory unfairly neglected the biblical story of creation. The board voted in September 2002 to apply stickers to 35,000 textbooks warning that "evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things" and that "this material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." In 2004, several parents sued the school board in federal court, and last year, District Judge Clarence Cooper ordered the stickers removed on the grounds that the language amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of a religious belief (ScienceNOW, 14 January 2005). An appellate court rejected the school board's appeal, saying it lacked sufficient information to issue a ruling, and remanded the case to the district court.
An attorney for the school board, Linwood Gunn, says schools officials never intended to start a controversy with the stickers. "The sticker was really just an effort to navigate through the minefield that is this controversy," he says. Still, Gunn says, the district court's decision was "bad law," so it was worth settling the case to have the judgment set aside.