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Mecklenburg County Trustees revisit policy on Bible handouts

SoVaNow.com / February 19, 2014
(Correction: The print version of this story in The Mecklenburg Sun (Feb. 19) described two speakers at the School Board meeting, Donna Seate and Valerie Sadowski, as affiliated with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They are not. Both speakers appeared before the School Board to state their views independently. The Sun apologizes for the error.)

The Mecklenburg County School Board sought Monday to clarify the policy for distribution of materials by outside groups in response to complaints by religious leaders that the Bible is being excluded from county schools.

Trustees heard on the subject from Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thornton, who summarized the position of School Board attorney Bard King: either all groups may distribute materials within the schools, or no groups may distribute.

A draft policy submitted by King and read by personnel director Laura Pittard would limit the time, place and manner in which the materials are distributed, as well as the content. Banned would be materials deemed libelous, indecent, primarily advertising-driven, political, promoting tobacco or drug use or other illegal activity, or likely to cause substantial disruption in the schools.

An exception provides: “This policy shall not apply to students who may wish to distribute printed materials to fellow students.”

When Thornton was asked if that meant that students could distribute a box of Bibles to fellow students under the policy, the superintendent said he would have to seek clarification.

The ballyhoo over allowing outside groups to distribute materials in the schools began last year when Thornton initially barred the Gideon Society from the ten-year old practice of placing a stack of Bibles on a table, set up so students could pick up the books if they desired. He later relented, but on Feb. 4, parents received a letter from Thornton stating that an outside group known as Freedom From Religion Foundation was now challenging the right the Gideon Society to hand out its Bibles.

Before hearing from the public, Thornton emphasized that this policy, if adopted, will applies to all materials, not just Bibles, but also those of non- or anti-religious groups, as well as civic groups like Boy Scouts, YMCA and any outside organization. The alternative, he said, was to ban every outside group from distributing its materials in the school.

Speakers from the community expressed their dismay that the prohibition would extend beyond religious materials.

Donna Seate, who introduced herself as a Catholic Christian, told trustees “I feel that once you start letting one religion in, then everyone else can put their materials in and it just confuses our children. Children should not be allowed to read anything a parent does not approve of.”

Valerie Sadowski, who also described herself as a Catholic Christian, said, “Any materials that advance or inhibit religion should not be allowed.” She called such materials confusing to children whose families do not provide in-home religious training.

Brandie Luna shared their sentiment but called it “unfortunate that Boy Scouts and all that stuff are now being affected.”

The only person to speak in favor of allowing the continued distribution of materials in the school was the Rev. Randy Baisey, minister at Ephesus United Methodist, Fields and Friendship Methodist Churches. He urged school trustees “to keep God’s word in the school,” and offered to help “in any way I can.”

In other business, trustees listened to a presentation by Wise County School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Perry, architect Mike Ross and contractor Stephen Ballard, regarding Wise County’s recent consolidation of six high schools into three, and witnessed a slideshow on a Virginia Beach Project Based Learning school that Ballard’s company is constructing.

Wise said the consolidation of schools saved money for the county and helped advance the students academically, but in response to questions from trustee Dale Sturdifen, he conceded that his school did not engage in Project Based Learning.

Among the advantages Wise County garnered from a consolidated high school were: better teachers who could target their strengths, stronger administrative teams, increased dual enrollment, a reduction in discipline referrals reduced from 6.7 per day to 4.3 per day, more competitive athletic teams, new athletic teams, and an expansion of extracurricular activity offerings.

Following that discussion, trustees again voted to seek $250,000 from the Board of Supervisors to fund an architect an engineer study to begin the process of building a new consolidated high school in Mecklenburg County. This same request was rejected by supervisors less than three months before.

Trustees also authorized Thornton to move forward with plans to construct covered walkways at La Crosse, Chase City, and Clarksville Elementary Schools, to link the new gymnasiums to the main school building. The cost for all three walkways according to Blair Construction – the contractor hired to erect additions at the three elementary schools is over $100,000, and in addition to the $6.2 million spent by Trustees on three new school addition,

Thornton presented a preliminary budget request that seeks a $3 million increase in school funding over last year, part of the money will be used to fund several new teaching and administrative positions and addresses increases in payments to the Virginia Retirement System mandated by the State.

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I was present for this entire meeting. There were no speakers from the Freedom from Religion foundation. This article contains a blatant lie. This is journalism?

Comments

Keep the schools seperate.

Comments

Thank goodness the above article has been corrected. It's pretty scary when stuff is just made up.


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