Beau Schaefer, a Libertyville High School science teacher who has taught creationism in his biology class for at least four years, will keep his job despite the fact that according to the U.S. Supreme Court, this violates students’ first amendment rights.
The decision comes after conversations between LHS administrators and Schaefer, and a vote by the school board. (Watch the video here.)
After discussions during an executive session at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, the board voted 5-0 to let Schaefer retain his position.
“This is remediable behavior,” District 128 Superintendent Prentiss Lea said in a prepared statement before the executive session at Tuesday’s meeting.
Board members Judy Sugarman and Marsha Oberreider were absent from the meeting.
Whether or not Schaefer violated students’ 1st Amendment rights by teaching or referencing creationism was not the issue for Lea and the school board, according to his statement. In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that creationism could not be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes.
“Regardless of our professional or personal opinions, there is no gray area in these court cases, and D128 must and will, live within the boundaries of the court rulings,” said Lea in his statement.
Creationism in Quiz
The issue first came to light when Rob Sherman, an atheist advocate, appeared at February's school board meeting asking board members to look into whether or not Schaefer had been teaching creationism to his students.
At the time, Sherman said he had been contacted by several parents and had a copy of a quiz that Schaefer had given to his students. The quiz asked students to compare and contrast different aspects of evolution and creationism.
The quiz, Sherman and other parents believe, leads students to think that creationism is a scientific theory. Duncan Millar, a parent whose 14-year-old daughter is in Schaefer’s class, said his daughter was devastated by what she learned in the class.
“She walked away with the belief that evolution is a theory and the creationism makes sense—this from a science class,” Millar said.
Parents, students, and residents of surrounding communities on both sides of the creationism versus evolution discussion appeared at the meeting to express their views on the subject.
Community Members Outraged
Luke Wojciechowski, a 2005 graduate of Vernon Hills High School, said he was dismayed to hear that that creationism was taught in his former school district.
“Imagine where our world would be if we taught alchemy along with chemistry, phrenology along with neurology, astrology along with astronomy, or if physics was explained in terms of God’s will or magic; simply because we want to present our children with both sides of the argument,” he said.
Millar said his daughter, along with other students in Schaefer’s classes, was brainwashed by Schaefer.
“The first thing we said to our daughter is that what you choose to believe in is your business,” Millar said.
He urged the school board to consider the damage done to students by being co-taught both ideas.
“I will be outraged if they retain him. He shouldn’t be allowed to teach,” he said while waiting to hear the decision by board members about Schaefer’s fate.
Millar said his family is ‘mulling over their options’ about schooling for his daughter. School officials has told Millar that they will pay for a private science tutor to make up for the lapse in evolution education, but it would have to be on her own time, outside of school.
Evelyn Gauger, a senior at Vernon Hills High School came to the meeting with her mother, Lisanne Lombardo. Gauger wanted to attend the meeting because although she is not directly involved, she has friends who attend LHS and feels strongly about evolution. They are atheists who come from religious backgrounds.
“I don’t believe public dollars should be spent on teaching creationism. I believe in science. Creationism should not take up time in a science class,” Lombardo said.
Gauger nodded her head as Lombardo spoke.
“Creationism should be taught at home, at places of worship, and religious schools,” Gauger said.
Supporters: Sharing Ideas
Schaefer has taught at the high school for 22 years. His supporters say learning about both ideas helps better prepare them for life. Although teaching creationism in a public high school goes against the Illinois State Standards for Science, a few told school board members that they should consider the idea of allowing creationism in the curriculum.
"[Schaefer] brought up the idea of the debate, but he never taught any of the points. He never pressured us to believe any one way or the other,” said sophomore Brian Holzer.
Su and Marc Miller, who live in the Grayslake School District, attended the meeting because they ‘firmly believe in the issue.’
“The first Congress appropriated money to make Bibles the main text taught in schools,” they said.
Past President of District 128 Kenneth Eichelberger said he has known Beau Schaeffer since he was a child and believes Schaeffer had the students’ best interests at heart.
“It’s healthy to hear both parts of the issue and discuss them with their parents,” he said.