Pinellas County School Board candidate Ken Peluso hopefully learned a valuable lesson this week after his quick and careless answer to a major constitutional question. He has sharply reversed himself from public statements at a Thursday candidate forum in which he appeared to advocate teaching religion-based creationism alongside evolution in public school science classes. On Friday, he said creationism does not belong in science classes and that he misspoke at the forum. Political candidates are held to account for what they say publicly, so it's wise to get it right the first time.
Peluso told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, which earlier this month recommended him in the Aug. 26 election for the District 4 seat, that he was caught off guard Thursday when an audience member at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club asked the School Board candidates if they favored teaching creationism and if they did, if it should be taught in science class. Peluso, responding first, was the only candidate to say yes: "I think creationism and evolution should be taught side by side, and I don't care what classroom."
On Friday, Peluso said he made a mistake. He said he would envision public schools teaching creationism only in the context of a world religion class, where "other alternative religious perspectives were also taught." He agreed creationism, a belief system which he subscribes to, does not have a role in public school science classes. The Florida Board of Education appropriately adopted science standards in 2008 embracing evolution, simultaneously rejecting calls by some Christian advocates to also include creationism or so-called intelligent design.
"Creationism should not come up in teaching evolution,'' Peluso said Friday. "I worded that poorly."
It's an unfortunate error for a second-time candidate who should recognize the need for precision whenever it comes to commenting on religious beliefs and taxpayer-financed education. Peluso, who previously served on the board for Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, made clear in previous interviews with the Times' editorial board that he understood public schools need to serve all students, regardless of background or beliefs, and that families who sought a different environment could opt for private school. Creationism and evolution in public schools did not come up in interviews with the editorial board during his unsuccessful 2008 campaign or this one.
Peluso pledged Friday that he would not advocate for science curriculum changes if he is elected to the Pinellas School Board. That is good news. It's too bad he didn't say that the first time.