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Biology Teacher Vows to Keep Up Creation Battle : Schools: John Peloza tells parents and fellow teachers he’ll press on with harassment suit against Capistrano district.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A biology teacher at Capistrano Valley High School, who was reprimanded for allegedly preaching to two Jewish students, accused the district Wednesday night of harassing him for his religious beliefs and vowed to press ahead with a $5-million lawsuit.

“My purpose as a high school biology teacher is to present evidence as it is, and not the politically correct view,” said John Peloza, a “born-again” Christian.

Peloza, 37, spoke at a meeting of parents and teachers organized by a group called Citizens for Excellence in Education, which supports him. They group rented the auditorium at the high school and sent out invitations.

Earlier this month, the Capistrano Unified School District rejected a $5-million claim filed by Peloza, who said that administrators falsely accused him of teaching religion in his science class and debunking the theory of evolution. In his claim, Peloza also sought damages against the student newspaper, Paw Prints, for printing an editorial by a high school senior who criticized his teaching methods.

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Peloza said he will file a suit against the district next week, alleging that officials are involved in “a conspiracy to pressure me into teaching a particular religious concept.”

“They want me to promote the fossil record as though it were a fact,” Peloza said. “What they’re asking me to do is wrong, yet it is popular.”

He said the suit will also name Jim Corbett, a district teacher and adviser to the student newspaper. He said he will not sue the student who wrote the editorial.

Peloza’s battle with the district caused a flurry of unrest at the high school toward the end of the school year as students took sides in the issue.

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Pam Henkoski, a member of Citizens For Excellence in Education, said that Wednesday’s meeting was held a week before Capistrano Valley’s first day of classes to give Peloza a chance to explain why he is suing the district.

“At the end of last year, there were bad feelings toward John,” Henkoski said. “People can find out firsthand what is going on.”

In response to questioning Wednesday night, Peloza said that his world view naturally influences his teaching, but that he instructs his students about different scientific theories of human origin, including creation science.

“What I have been doing is not teaching what is politically correct,” he said. “I don’t teach dogmatic Darwinism. I don’t say, ‘Hey kids, you evolved from apes. I can’t explain why, but that’s the facts.’ ”

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But teacher Lynn Harvey asked him where in the textbooks creationism was mentioned. When he responded that it wasn’t, she said, “So where do you get off teaching both?”

But supporter Teresa Betts told Peloza, “What you taught my daughter was to think, and that will have a strong impact on her, which was greatly appreciated. “

Henkoski said 400 printed invitations to the event were mailed and a notice was published in a local newspaper. About 50 people showed up.

District officials confirmed that several students from Capistrano Valley had received notices about the meeting.

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Peloza, a graduate of Humboldt State University, where he majored in physical education, has been teaching biology at the high school for seven years.


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