Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas, has sparked an outcry among some state science teachers for proposing new draft K-12 science standards that remove the word "evolution" and its explanations which they see as a push to replace the Darwinian theory with the teaching of Intelligent Design.
Douglas insisted Wednesday that the accusations are unfounded.
"Let's make it very clear," she told KTAR News 92.3 FM, "evolution has not been removed from the science standards in any way shape or form."
"A word in a sentence changed to make the sentence more inclusive, more comprehensive, more accurate is nothing even close to removing evolution from the standards," she added.
The proposal drafted by a committee that answers to Douglas suggests students should no longer be required to analyze and interpret just "supporting evidence for the Big Bang theory and the scale of the universe" but "theories related to the scale and expansion of the universe."
The Big Bang theory argues that the universe "started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today." Intelligent Design is the theory that the complexity of biological life can best be explained by the existence of a Creator rather than by Darwinian evolution alone.
Calls made to the Arizona Department of Education Thursday about the proposed changes weren't immediately answered.
In 2005, a federal judge in Pennsylvania blocked a school district from teaching Intelligent Design in classrooms, declaring it an unconstitutional advancement of a religious viewpoint in public schools.
In a statement Wednesday, Bertha Vazquez, director of the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, a program of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science and the Center for Inquiry, argued that Douglas' proposed changes are an open door to teach religion as science in local classrooms.
"As the director of the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, I am disheartened by the proposed changes to Arizona's draft science standards. By calling evolution into question, Arizona's proposed standards might open the door for teachers to bring religion into the classroom," Vazquez argued.
She further claimed: "Evolution is the only valid scientific explanation for the diversity of life on our planet. There are no credible dissenters within science. None."
Vazquez is also concerned that the new draft "will be able to bypass instruction on the Big Bang Theory."
Douglas told Capitol Media Services on Monday that the proposed standards make no reference to Intelligent Design.
"We have absolutely nothing in these standards in reference to intelligent design," she said.
The publication, however, cited a recording of Douglas speaking to Republican candidates last November insisting that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution in schools.
"Should the theory of Intelligent Design be taught along with the theory of evolution?" she said in response to a question. "Absolutely."
While she denied trying to add Intelligent Design to the curriculum in public schools and called it "fake news," she specifically referenced the science standards in her November comments, according to Capitol Media Services.
"I had a discussion with my staff because we're currently working on science standards, to make sure this issue was addressed in the standards we're working on," she said at the time.
On Monday, she told the publication: "The point of education is really to be seekers of the truth, whatever the truth may be. And that's what all standards should work toward."
She admitted that the language of the new standards will allow teachers to provide students with alternate theories of how life on Earth got to where it is.
"Evolution is a theory in many ways. That's what our children should understand," Douglas said.
"If we're going to educate our children instead of just indoctrinate them to one way of thinking, we have to be able to allow them to explore all types of areas," the education leader who believes there is a scientific explanation for Intelligent Design, said.
"Once upon a time people said the Earth was flat and it couldn't possibly be round," Douglas noted.
Amber Struthers, a science teacher at the Jones-Gordon School in Paradise Valley couldn't disagree with Douglas more. She sees the proposal as a rollback on the teaching of evolution and told 12 News that if the changes are accepted, it would be like not teaching students about gravity.
"This would be something I would definitely be incredibly uncomfortable with," Struthers, a teacher of 12 years who has five science degrees including a doctorate, said.
Tory Roberg, whose two children attend the Washington Elementary School District, said she was "horrified" at an April public hearing on the proposed science standards at the Department of Education, the network said.
"They were dumbing down our evolution standards," she said. "I want my kids to learn science in science class. ... It would be a huge missing gap (for students) in understanding core concepts in science."