Thursday, April 15, 2004

Back to Darby
When last we left the scenic hamlet of Darby, Montana, two thirds of the high school students had walked out over the plans of the school board to introduce intelligent design creationism into their science curriculum. Both sides were bracing themselves for the expected parental lawsuits. If their problems had stopped there, the school board would probably be very happy. Last week a group of disgusted parents marched on the school board meeting to protest “recent board actions and non-actions.” The local newspaper, The Ravalli Republic, is suing the board over violating the state’s open meeting law during the hiring of a new superintendent.

Last December Darby’s thirteen year veteran school superintendent, Jack Eggensperger, turned in his resignation after months of tension between himself and the school board. The intelligent design science curriculum was one of the issues of contention. Chairperson Gina Schallenberger and two allies, who together held a majority on the five-person board, voted for the new curriculum soon after that. The school board’s procedures mandate that a resolution be voted on twice on two different dates, so this first vote was not enough to adopt the curriculum. Meanwhile the school board needed to hire a new superintendent.

The Montana School Boards Association helped them find candidates and they were ready to hold interviews by mid-March. By then the student walkout had occurred and newsteams from across the state were watching the Darby school system. I wonder how desirable this $60K job was looking to the candidates. The board liked the looks of Gerald Pease and voted 4–1 to offer him the job. He accepted.

But Chairperson Schallenberger and her two allies (not named in any of the reporting I could find) changed their minds. After seeing the resume of Clair Garrick, whose spirituality impressed them, they voted in a closed meeting to rescind the offer to Pease. This appears to violate several Montana and possibly federal laws. Open meetings are required in the Montana constitution and withdrawing the job offer to Pease because they liked Garrick’s religion better looks like an open and shut discrimination case.

While Americans United and other pro and anti separation of church and state groups prepare for the curriculum fight, the Ravalli Republic is suing the board over lack of access to the hiring meetings. Parents are picketing school board meetings. They still haven’t hired a superintendent because the “spiritual” Garrick didn’t have the degrees he claimed on his resume. And Schallenberger is up for reelection in three weeks.

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