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Teacher in Evolution Dispute Reassigned : Education: John Peloza, whose suit against district was thrown out, will teach physical education instead of biology.

January 31, 1992|LILY ENG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — Biology teacher John Peloza, a "born-again" Christian accused by Capistrano Unified School District officials of teaching creationism in his classroom, has been reassigned to physical education classes.

In a three-paragraph statement, district officials said in part, "This reassignment is in the best interest of the staff and the students at Capistrano Valley High School." Peloza has taught biology classes at that campus for eight years.

Peloza said he was not surprised by the reassignment, which comes two weeks after he lost a bid to sue the school district. He said the district had been forcing him to teach evolution as a religion rather than a scientific theory. The transfer was given to him Thursday morning.

"I'm not politically correct," Peloza said. "Therefore I am going to be punished."

But school officials say they reassigned Peloza only because he did not teach biology according to district guidelines.

"Mr. Peloza has on many occasions indicated an unwillingness to teach all the components of the biology program," said James A. Fleming, Capistrano Unified superintendent. "Hopefully he won't have as many problems teaching the physical education program."

According to the district statement, Peloza is scheduled to begin his new classes Monday, which is the start of the high school's new semester. But school officials say that to prepare himself for the new classes, Peloza can wait until Wednesday to begin teaching them.

Peloza has a teaching credential in physical education and majored in the subject at Humboldt State University, the statement said.

School officials say they will not have a shortage of biology teachers at Capistrano Valley even with Peloza's removal. The school had planned to combine several science classes for the second semester. They also said that Capistrano Valley High needed another physical education instructor because another teacher had left the school.

Peloza's attorney, Cyrus Zal, called the reassignment "retaliation."

"I'm dismayed," Zal said. "It seems that the district is retaliating against John for his refusal to knuckle under to their ideological purity test. You would have expected this in a totalitarian system of government but not in a supposedly free system of government that we have."

But Ric Stephenson, president of the Capistrano teachers union, said the district is within its guidelines.

"A teacher may be reassigned during the course of the year if it's within the special interests of the district," Stephenson said. "As long as the district follows the contract, there is no recourse for us."

Two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge David W. Williams issued a biting decision against Peloza and threw out his lawsuit against the district. The judge characterized Peloza as a "loose cannon" in the classroom. Williams stated that students have a right to be taught biology without religious bias.

Though Peloza said he is a creationist, he denies teaching Biblical creationism in his science classes. He has promised to appeal the ruling.

The issue was sparked in February, 1991, when Capistrano Unified officials reprimanded Peloza. Officials have told Peloza to stop proselytizing his students and teaching that man was put on earth by an "intelligent creator."

The district follows the state's science curriculum guidelines, which recommend that evolution theory be taught in biology classes.

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