The Cobb County school board voted unanimously Thursday to review a proposal that says the district "believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species."
Board chairman Curt Johnston said he did not know how the policy would change classroom practices and was unsure whether the new language would allow creationism to be discussed.
The board felt it should consider the plan because some teachers worried that they would get in trouble if they told students about any alternatives to evolution, Johnston said.
"We've been told by our attorney we're not allowed to teach creationism. But the point is we want free and open discussion in the classroom," he said. "And our teachers are nervous about what they can talk about. This will clarify things."
The theory of evolution, accepted by nearly all scientists, says evidence shows that life developed from earlier forms through slight variations over time and that natural selection determines which species survive. Creationism credits the origin of species to God.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught in public schools along with evolution.
Some parents say they see the Cobb County proposal as a backdoor to get religion in schools.
"It's deception and indoctrination," said parent Paula Jackson.
Schools in the conservative suburban Atlanta county are already in court over the science curriculum. The district put stickers in thousands of middle and high school science books that said evolution is theory, not fact, and should be critically considered.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday sued to remove the stickers.
"I believe science does not need a disclaimer, or an apology," parent Bill Hart said. "That compromises the ability to teach science. As a Christian, my faith demands honesty. It is not honest to present creationism as fact."
Many others told the board that students need to hear about creationism.
"Separation of church and state is a fallacy promoted by the liberal press," said parent Russell Brock, urging the board to allow creationism to be taught. "We're a Christian nation."
The board, however, took pains to say the plan was not about getting religion into schools.
In a statement read before the vote, Johnston said "the board is not considering requiring, permitting or promoting the teaching of creationism or other faith-based ideas of origin of the species in science classrooms."
The board is expected to vote on the policy Sept. 26. If approved, it will go into effect immediately in the 100,000-student school district.
Science educators criticized the plan.
"You can't teach creationism and evolution and still have a science program with integrity," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of California-based National Center for Science Education.