Sunday, May 15, 2005

School Bans Kids From Reading Bibles During Recess

It is being reported that a Tennessee elementary school has banned kids from bringing Bibles to school and reading them during recess:

In a letter to the Knox County School District in Tennessee, the Alliance Defense Fund declared the principal of Karns Elementary School is on "shaky constitutional ground."

According to ADF, 10-year-old student Luke Whitson used his regularly scheduled recess time to read the Bible with a few friends on his school's playground. After receiving a complaint from a parent, the principal reportedly ordered the students to stop their activity, put their Bibles away and cease from bringing them to school.

"There are no 'age discrimination' allowances in the First Amendment of the Constitution," said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. "The law protects these students the same as it protects all students."

Infranco said children "have rights of speech and association during their non-instructional time, and the school may not curtail those rights because of their age."

According to the Knox News Sentinel, (bugmenot id: silviom[at]mailinator[dot]com password: helsinki) Karns Elementary School Principal Cathy Summa denies that there is a ban on bringing Bibles to school, saying that she has one in her office. But when can kids read their Bibles?

The answer, according to the Knox County public school system's attorney, is, during "free time."

And free time does not necessarily include recess, said the attorney, Marty McCampbell.

"I think recess is part of the school day. I wouldn't call it free time," she said.

In elementary school, educators schedule recess for a reason, McCampbell said, and they might decide they don't want students reading the Bible or any other books then.

"For little kids, it's important to get them out, to get oxygen in their brains," McCampbell said. "Having that time, it's structured into the day for a purpose, because little kids at that age do need that kind of physical outlet."
Earlier this year, three kids and a parent asked Principal Summa if they could have a Bible Study Group at recess:

"My response was, children could not have a Bible study during the school day," Summa said.
Summa has adopted the District's position that recess is not free time, but may be considered instructional time and as such, students may not engage in Bible study at that time.
The Knox County School District continues to defend its position:

The district only allows such groups to meet before or after school hours, said Russ Oaks, spokesman for Knox County Schools.
Cindy Buttry, the Knox County school board member who represents Karns Elementary, said she supports the school's principal. However, in yet another instance of a politician engaging in doublespeak, Buttry said she personally thinks students should be able to conduct Bible study during some parts of the school day:

"If it's not being led by an adult, if it's not something that is structured, in my opinion, I don't see a problem with it," said Buttry, who remembers reading her own Bible at school when she was in high school. "Lunch and recess, technically to me, they're on their own time."
As a junior high school teacher in California, we have been told that recess is not considered instructional time. In fact, recess is specifically excluded from being counted as "instructional minutes" by the California Education Code.

At Karns Elementary, the kids were reading their Bibles during recess. They were disturbing no one. They were not fighting, biting, pushing, shouting, yelling, or engaging in any of the other types of negative behaviors that students often engage in during recess time.

These children... were... reading...The Holy Bible.

And the school told them that reading the Bible was not an acceptable form of recreational activity during recess.

What if instead of the Bible, these children had been reading the Koran? Would the message from the school had been the same? Or do some religions nowadays get more protection than others?

Clearly, In her attempt to address the concerns of one parent, Principal Cathy Summa overreacted. She should have allowed the kids to get on with their Bible reading. It would have been the right thing to do.

If the one parent that had initially complained wasn't satisfied, then he or she may have decided to take additional action against the school district. That would have meant a complaint to the district's duly-elected governing board of trustees who would have considered the matter, as they are charged to do.

Instead of doing that, the school's principal took the easy way out and simply said "no" to the kids reading their Bibles during recess. What kind of example to our young people does this set?
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