The Florida department of education heard arguments from evolution supporters and opponents in Orlando on Monday in the final public hearing before next week's panel vote on the state's new science standards.
The school board is considering whether to mandate the word "evolution" into the state science curriculum for the first time. Currently, "biological changes over time" is used in science classes.
If the panel votes in favor of the new science standards, schools would not only be required to teach evolution by name but also more in-depth to students. The State Board of Education is set to vote on the revised science standards on Feb. 19.
More than 100 people weighed in at the Orlando meeting. The majority in attendance spoke against the teaching of evolution as a fact and wanted evolution taught alongside alternative theories such as intelligent design or creationism.
"No one can say with certainty that evolution is a fact," said Lee Hyatt, a 20-year-old college student from Leesburg, reported The Associated Press.
"To be scientifically proven, it has to be observable and no one was around 6,000 years ago. We want students exposed to all theories so they can become critical thinkers."
Other critics worried that the proposed standards requiring the study of evolution would leave little room for academic freedom.
"The standards deny academic freedom to students and teachers," said Patricia Weeks, chairman of the Baker County School Board, one of nine school boards in North Florida to pass resolutions against the proposed standards.
Those who spoke in favor of the new standards said the teaching of evolution was needed in light of poor test scores and would help Florida compete academically with other states.
Opponents, however, noted that Darwin's theories are already taught under the current curriculum.
"There is nothing about this language that is going to make Florida smarter or make kids have better education," said John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council, according to WESH-TV.
A group of parents and pastors held a news conference before the meeting expressing their disappointment that no commissioners from The State Board of Education would be in attendance, reported the Orlando Sentinel.
"All I want to do is have my voice heard and before the seven people who will make the decision," said Kim Kendall.
The meeting in Orlando was similar to those held across the state in recent weeks in Jacksonville, Miramar and Fort Lauderdale.
In addition to comments made at the public hearings, the state board is also expected to consider views reflected in over 10,000 online comments on its website.