Subject: Parent sues school district
He says his civil rights were violated when he tried to change evolution teachings.
By Laurel Rosen -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, January 16, 2005
The parent who tried unsuccessfully to introduce anti-evolution material into Roseville biology classrooms has filed a lawsuit against the high school district.
Larry Caldwell, a lawyer and parent of a Granite Bay High School student, filed suit this week in a Sacramento federal court against the Roseville Joint Union High School District and several of its employees.
Caldwell alleges that school officials violated his rights to free speech, equal protection and religious freedom in the process of responding to his proposed "Quality Science Education Policy" and related instructional materials.
"A parent or other citizen ought to be able to come before the school board with a proposal and have that proposal considered on its merits and not have their civil rights violated in the process," Caldwell said in an interview.
"You ought to be able to bring a proposal without being treated differently because they don't like what you're saying, or they don't like your religious beliefs."
Caldwell's proposed policy asked teachers to "help students analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. The written and video materials he proposed using challenged Charles Darwin's theory with examples that raised questions about fossil evidence and posited that similarities between species - such as having five digits on each limb - do not necessarily indicate a common ancestor.
During his yearlong attempt to change the way evolution is taught, Caldwell says, school officials prevented meaningful consideration of his proposals by refusing to put the policy on the board's agenda, defaming him in public meetings and failing to provide a clear procedure for his requests.
Not so, says school board President Jim Joiner.
Joiner said Caldwell's proposal received ample attention from the board, district officials and science teachers.
"I believe we discussed Mr. Caldwell's proposal at eight separate meetings," Joiner said. "If he is alleging that he was denied an opportunity to be heard, I'm surprised."
Joiner said he had not yet reviewed the suit but that he's confident the district "acted properly and legally."
Caldwell said his lawsuit names the school district along with six individuals: Joiner, trustee Jan Pinney, Superintendent Tony Monetti, Assistant Superintendent Steven Lawrence, Assistant Superintendent Don Genasci and Granite Bay High School Principal Ron Severson.
District officials declined to comment.
In June, the school board voted 3-2 to reject Caldwell's policy proposal. The issue became a point of discussion among school board candidates in the run-up to November's election. The candidates voters elected - Pinney, Paige Stauss and Garry Genzlinger - said they wanted the board to move away from a focus on contentious social issues.
"Based on statements made by the members of the school board during the election, it was clear to me that a majority of the board right now would not be open to considering the QSE proposal," Caldwell said.
He said he feels a lawsuit is the only way to achieve his goal of transforming science instruction in the Roseville district.
"I spent a year negotiating with people at all levels in the district and got absolutely nowhere. ... It would be a futile effort to try again. I felt litigation was the only option other than just accepting the status quo."
About the writer:
The Bee's Laurel Rosen can be reached at (916) 773-7631 or [email protected]