Thousands of comments delay science standards vote

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Thousands of comments delay science standards vote
By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer

The West Virginia Board of Education’s expected vote this week to adopt new K-12 science standards — the first to require teaching about global warming in mandatory courses — has been delayed due to an “unusually large number of comments.”

Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the standards received around 7,000 comments from more than 1,000 people during their 30-day public comment period, which ended last month. She said she couldn’t confirm whether that’s the most comments ever submitted on a proposed policy change, but said the average number is about 100. Some individuals submitted comments “in bulk,” she said.

Because the Department of Education must read every comment, in part to see whether the board needs to consider any changes, Cordeiro said the expected vote will be pushed back until next month. “Each and every comment is logged and coded with matching policy,” Cordeiro wrote in an email. “Content specialists and office leads assist in creating the comment log and organizing it for board review.”

After a previous 30-day comment period, the school board approved in December a version of the standards, which are based off the national Next Generation Science Standards blueprint that West Virginia and 25 other states helped develop. But that adopted version included modifications to the teaching of climate change. After receiving local and national criticism saying the changes sowed unwarranted doubt into the well-established theory that humans’ greenhouse gas emissions are driving global warming, the school board voted in January to withdraw the full set of standards and use a version of the standards without the controversial changes. That version was put out for another 30-day comment period.

The thousands of comments submitted far exceed the number put forth during the first 30-day comment period, when many didn’t know the climate change alterations had been made. Department of Education employees made the modifications — affecting only a few lines in the 70-page standards document — in response to school board member Wade Linger’s concern about the teaching of human-influenced climate change, which he said he doesn’t believe is a “foregone conclusion.” The department didn’t notify all school board members or the individuals who helped vet the standards -- including members of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association — about the climate change modifications.

The alterations only became widely known when the Gazette reported on them — after the standards had been adopted. Climate Parents, a national nonprofit that spoke out against the standards modifications and has fought against changes to the Next Generation Science Standards in other states, has said it submitted more than 5,700 comments in support of the current draft version of the standards, which doesn’t include the global warming modifications. John Friedrich, senior campaigner for Climate Parents, has said the comments came from residents of West Virginia and other states

If the school board had voted to approve the standards next week, their decision would’ve come shortly before the end of the state Legislative session, which closes Saturday. Before a bill to repeal the state’s Common Core-based math and English/language arts standards passed the House of Delegates on Feb. 28, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, successfully amended it to also require ditching the “Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives as approved by the (state school) Board in August 2011.”

Butler said he intended the change partly to prevent West Virginia from adopting the Next Generation Science Standards. He said he doesn’t believe humans’ greenhouse gas emissions are a major driver of climate change and he opposes the standards for their teaching of global warming.

Because his amendment specifies only standards adopted in 2011, it’s unclear whether it will accomplish his goal if the Senate passes the bill. Peer-reviewed science overwhelmingly shows that human greenhouse gas emissions are a major driver of global warming. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released dire reports about climate change impacts with a more than 95 percent certainty that humans are the main cause