It was that religious concept -- and the then-board's insistence on including it in the curriculum -- that led to the 2005 federal court trial and Judge John Jones III ruling that including intelligent design violated the U.S. Constitution and was simply biblical creationism dressed up as science.
Nilsen played a pivotal role in that dispute that eventually cost the district $1 million in legal fees. On the stand in the federal trial, the superintendent claimed he could not remember religious comments made by board members regarding the intelligent design issue.
And yet, when the board made the decision to include a statement regarding intelligent design (and calling into question the theory of evolution), Nilsen made no public statement opposing the board's action.
As the appointed administrator of the district, that would seem to have been a prime opportunity for a dedicated educator to offer an educated warning to a school board apparently heaven-bent on thwarting the law of the land.
That opportunity came, and passed. The intelligent design statement was made to the ninth-grade biology class and the low road to the federal courthouse was under way.
As the suit progressed, the superintendent turned over notes indicating a board member had mentioned such items as school prayer and creationism, but once on the stand, Nilsen said he couldn't remember such comments.
Again, an opportunity came, and passed. There is no way of knowing whether a protest by Nilsen would have brought sufficient public attention to the board's intelligent design misadventure to save the community the embarrassment and the trial.
Nilsen served at the pleasure of that board -- members of which violated their oath of office by insisting that religious creationism be made part of a public school curriculum.
It was always a question of opportunities.