On the stand today was Carol “Casey” Brown, a Dover resident and former reporter for the York Dispatch. She and her husband, Jeffrey, each have a child who attended the Dover schools. For five and ten years, respectively, Mr. and Mrs. Brown served on the Dover Area School Board, until they both resigned on October 18th, 2004. Today, Mrs. Brown testified as to the events leading to that resignation. In doing so, she called attention, not only to the desire of certain board members to shape school policy based on their religious convictions, but to the intimidation tactics and unusual procedural routes taken to further these goals.
Mrs. Brown began her narrative by describing a January 2002 retreat where the newly elected board president Alan Bonsell “expressed the desire to bring prayer and faith back into schools.”
“He mentioned bibles.” Mrs. Brown said, “and he mentioned creationism.”
Questions of creationism came up again as the board’s curriculum committee began addressing the need for new biology textbooks, preparing for the 2003-04 school year. A member of the committee at the time, Mrs. Brown stated that teachers had stopped using the old books because they were not in accordance with the state mandate. They had requested the purchase of Biology by Miller and Levine. The request was denied due to budget concerns.
The next year, in each of its June meetings, the board discussed the book, but committee chair William Buckingham stalled a vote because he viewed the book to be “laced with Darwinism” and “not balanced.” He repeated a statement from fall 2003, “regarding his disbelief in separation of church and state.” Mrs. Brown remembered also his concern that evolution and creationism should be “taught side by side.”
At the next meeting, Mr. Buckingham continued his objections. In addition, Mr. Bonsell allowed Mr. Buckingham’s wife to speak for 10-15 minutes, in a manner described by Mrs. Brown as akin to a “chautauqua… an old tent revival.”
“She described how to accept Christ as our personal savior. She spoke very vehemently in favor of creationism…she read from Scripture.” Mrs. Brown recalled that “there were muttered amens” from board members, including Mr. Buckingham.
In the meeting, Mr. Brown raised concerns about the legality of bringing the subject of creationism into the schools and was called a coward by Mr. Buckingham.
And the issue of the biology book was not resolved. Buckingham had brought up several objections – including the fact the inclusion of Charles Darwin in a science timeline and the absences of any “mention of creationism or god.” He was even bothered that, in a section on Darwin’s finches, “the finch had been named for Darwin.”
In the summer of 2004, Mr. Buckingham proposed the intelligent design book, Of Pandas and People, as an “adjunct alternative text.” At the August 2004 meeting, Mr. Buckingham indicated that he would “give [the district the] biology book” if they agreed to include Of Pandas and People. He said that he had the votes to prevent them from getting books. “We lost [the vote’,” said Mrs. Brown, but a board member on the winning side requested a re-vote and changed her position rather than deny students their books.
Then, in September 2004, Vice Superintendent Baksa informed Mrs. Brown of a proposal to modify the biology curriculum so that, in the words of curricular materials, “Students will be made aware of gaps in Darwin’s theory and other theories of evolution.” While changes to the curriculum are usually due to “changes in mandates by the state,” changes in the subject matter or changes in textbooks, Mrs. Brown indicated that Mr. Buckingham seemed to be spearheading these changes.
On the Thursday prior to the October 18th meeting, she received from Baksa a revised statement that students would be “made aware of gaps…including but not limited to intelligent design” and Pandas was to be used as a reference.
“Normal procedures were not in place,” said Mrs. Brown. “Anything related to curriculum changes at this time [of the year] was unusual.” The teachers were not involved, only learning of the changes “on the morning of October 18th.” Finally, the community-based Curriculum Advisory Board was not consulted. According to Mrs. Brown, “it was unheard of for stakeholders not to be involved.”
On October 18th, the new material was approved in a 6-3 vote, changing the curriculum. At the end of the meeting, Mrs. Brown “asked for recognition from Mr. Bonsell and resigned.”
Today, she read from her prepared statement of resignation:
“We as board members serve as the representatives of our community to our district, representing all of the members of our community and representing all viewpoints… We cannot favor one over another… In the past year, there seems to have been a shift…There has been a marginalization of some of the board members… Religious belief is of paramount importance [to some board members]… I have been asked twice if I have been born again…With deepest regret, I am stepping down…I shall pray that you will learn to represent all the members of this community.”
“Just after stepping down from the board,” concluded Mrs. Brown, “[Mr Buckingham] decried my belief and called me an atheist.” A couple months later, at the recess of a board meeting, Mrs. Brown told the court that Mr Bonsell “accused me and my husband of destroying the board. He told me that I would be going to hell.”
Submitted by Amy Laura Cahn, Community Education Organizer, ACLU of Pennsylvania