by Paul Bowers
S.C. Superintendent of Education candidate Sally Atwater has gotten a lot of bad press in the past few days for an interview she gave to the Greenville news radio station WORD 106.3. So we e-mailed her campaign team to see if she would like a do-over.
In the radio interview, as countless internet wonks have pointed out, Atwater seemed to be dodging questions regarding sex education and the teaching of evolution in science classrooms. "I'm a teacher. I want to go by the health standards right now," Atwater replied to host Russ Cassell's battery of questions about sex ed.
The City Paper sent Atwater's campaign team a request for a phone interview along with the two questions we intended to ask her. Campaign manager DeLinda Ridings wrote back to say that Atwater's schedule was too busy for an interview, but she did include written responses from Atwater.
So, in the spirit of second chances, here are Atwater's full answers. Atwater will face Molly Spearman in a Republican primary runoff June 24.
City Paper: How should sex education be taught in public schools? Should South Carolina schools continue to be allowed to use abstinence-only curricula?
Sally Atwater: As a special needs teacher for over 11 years in South Carolina's public schools, I am well aware of the challenges of teaching controversial issues in the classroom. With regard to teaching sex education, teachers are required by state law to do so and are guided by standards that are well researched, vetted, and approved by the state board of education. There is a definite line between teaching the academic standards and respecting the personal beliefs held by students, teachers, and parents. Our teachers are professionals who do an excellent job teaching sex education under the current standards. These standards focus on the basic health knowledge needed to understand growth, development and the reproductive system. This instruction includes and should continue to include the student having to demonstrate an understanding of the term abstinence. And the standards related to these topics are readily available on the State Department of Education website for parents to review. Upon reading the standards, if a parent does not feel comfortable with the subject matter being taught, they may request that their student not participate in the related lessons. However, I want to add that students should also have the option to opt into a sex education course, upon parents approval, if they do not feel comfortable teaching their children at home. If granted the privilege to serve as your state superintendent of education, these standards will be reviewed by my office to insure that they do not cross that line between academic necessity and a family's beliefs. A public office is a public trust, it is the responsibility of the officeholder to respect the views and beliefs of their constituents while making the best decisions possible for the good of the whole.
CP: Should science teachers teach evolution as the modern scientific consensus, or should they be required to "teach the controversy"?
SA: The new science standards slated to take effect this school year do require our teachers to base their instruction on the modern scientific consensus of evolution. The development of these standards engaged a wide array of teachers and education specialists in a rigorous multi year process designed to create standards based on the best information available today. As superintendent, the job of my department is to insure that these standards are being implemented and are providing students an excellent base of scientific knowledge related to evolution. However, I do believe there is room in the future to add a performance indicator that would have students demonstrate an understanding of some of the other major theories of our beginnings such as creationism and intelligent design. Part of the focus of public education should be the growth of our students into active, involved, and informed citizens in our democracy. Ultimately, there will continue to be debates on how to teach the origins of man. And our future citizens should at least know that there are other theories besides evolution to explain the beginnings. I firmly believe our job as educators is to provide all the facts and theories on this subject so that the individual can decide.