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Intelligent design no big bang here

While controversy about how to teach public school children the origin of life roils other parts of the country, the subject has generated little heat in Pinellas County so far.

District officials say they have heard little from teachers, students or parents on the subject of intelligent design, the idea that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent agent.

That could change, though, when the state reviews its science standards in a few years, school superintendent Clayton Wilcox said.

"If the state comes up and says, "We're going to teach (intelligent design) as an alternative to evolution,' then obviously we would have to make some decisions on how we would do that," Wilcox said. "On the other hand, if they come up and say, "We're not doing it,' then I guess we then would kind of live with the status quo."

But for now, intelligent design appears to be a nonissue. The most recent opportunity for a discussion came - and went - last week.

A biology book that includes a passage about intelligent design was among hundreds of books science teachers reviewed as part of a six-year textbook adoption cycle. The teachers passed over Glencoe's Biology: The Science of Life with no discussion of the subject, said K-12 science supervisor Robert Orlopp.

"It didn't come up at all," Orlopp said. "One of the most important concerns was the degree to which the books covered the benchmarks and standards for the science FCAT. Another primary concern was accuracy."

In the end, the high school textbook selection committee chose a biology book that coincidentally was co-authored by a Brown University professor involved in the Dover, Pa., case. Kenneth Miller, an author of Prentice Hall Biology, Florida Edition, testified that a book containing references to intelligent design misrepresented scientific findings in its discussion of evolution.

A discussion of how intelligent design should affect biology curriculum simply has not come up for most Pinellas teachers. Orlopp said few have approached him with their opinions on whether it should be included in lesson plans.

That has not been the case in other states. A federal judge ruled that the Dover school district could not include a statement on intelligent design in its biology curriculum, stating that such a mixture of religion and science would be unconstitutional.

Last month, lawyers involved in the Pennsylvania case challenged a small rural school district in California that had proposed a philosophy elective on intelligent design.

And on Tuesday, a majority on the Ohio Board of Education challenged a model biology lesson that members considered an excuse to teach the controversial idea.

A recent poll of 631 parents conducted by the St. Petersburg Times found that 38 percent had paid no attention to the intelligent design discussion.

Of the 213 who said they thought intelligent design should be taught in science classrooms, a closer investigation showed that many didn't know what intelligent design is. The parent of one high school student thought it had something to do with computers.

Another called the discussion "a very big waste of time."

"We have much more important things to worry about," said Amy Johnson of Clearwater. "I find it very frustrating that we're even talking about it."

Times staff writer Thomas C. Tobin contributed to this report.

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