Science, education and politics collided Wednesday in Boise as lawmakers removed materials from proposed science standards for public schools.
The Idaho House Education Committee voted 12 to 4 Wednesday to remove supporting materials for science standards, including those referring to global climate change and the laws of motion.
Reps. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene; Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls; voted for the new science standards that don’t include language detailing the environmental effects of humans using energy and fuels derived from natural resources — such as air pollution from burning fossil fuels or the loss of fish habitat from hydroelectric power generated by dams.
“If we didn’t approve the new standards, things would have reverted back to the 2001 standards which are very outdated,” said Amador. “I do think it’s important for us to better understand how the world’s climate is changing and how those changes might impact life, and if it’s possible, how we might mitigate the negative outcomes of climate change.”
Amador said he initially voted to support the science standards that included materials about climate change that were recommended by the State Department of Education Committee, but the House panel rejected that motion by 5 to 11.
The House Committee’s decision angered Coeur d’Alene School District Board Trustee Tom Hearn, who spoke as an individual — not representing the entire board.
“I feel like it is an embarrassment that Idaho is the only state in the union that has not approved climate change for discussion in science standards,” said Hearn. “They did this for political reasons, not based on science. They are wrong in this decision and I feel we need to backup our teachers.”
Mendive defended his vote, saying the supporting content was written like a textbook and unnecessary.
“The sky is not falling, science teachers are going to teach science,” said Mendive. “We’re not trying to micromanage teachers, nor should we. The content is out there. It’s not a secret. Nothing is taken away. In my mind, this is a non-issue.”
Lake City High School teacher Jamie Esler strongly disagreed with the House vote.
“Teaching science is a two-sided coin; on one side is the scientific process and on the other side are scientific facts,” said Esler, who teaches ninth grade physical science and 11th grade Advanced Placement (AP) environmental science. “They took away the process by drastically reducing the teacher’s access to the facts within the standards. They got rid of the supporting content for the performance standards — everything from climate change to Newton’s Laws of Motion. If you’re a new teacher you’re going to really struggle to meet the standards of performance, which they didn’t change.”
In Esler’s classroom, student projects about climate change were hanging on the wall.
“The kids want to know about the science of climate change,” he said. “They’re asking questions, and they want to learn about it.”
Esler noted that the danger of removing those standards is that it leaves teachers vulnerable to being fired for teaching students about climate change.
“If a school board or an administration doesn’t like what you’re teaching, you could be gone and there’s nothing the teacher could do,” he said.
The Senate Education Committee must also vote on the standards in order for them to become the new benchmark for students across the state. No date has been set on the issue.