Bi­ble study rolling back to Rapp

‘Stu­dents can be ex­posed to teach­ing that may build good morals and healthy val­ues’

Rappahannock News - - Front Page - By John McCaslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

“We have a con­sen­sus to do ab­so­lutely noth­ing” that could be con­strued as ei­ther en­dors­ing or ham­per­ing a pro­posed “Rolling Chapel” re­li­gious study pro­gram for Rap­pa­han­nock pub­lic school stu­dents.

So con­cluded Rap­pa­han­nock County School Board Chair­man John Wes­ley Mills at Tues­day night’s reg­u­lar meet­ing of the board, in ef­fect grant­ing a Reynolds Me­mo­rial Bap­tist Church pro­posal to al­low par­tic­i­pat­ing el­e­men­tary school stu­dents to be ex­cused for one hour each month for off-cam­pus bi­ble study.

Mo­ments be­fore, Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr.

Shan­non Grim­s­ley had presented the board with a con­sti­tu­tional his­tory of so-called “re­lease time” pro­grams in Amer­ica, de­fined as “time set aside dur­ing school hours al­low­ing stu­dents to be re­leased to re­ceive pri­vate re­li­gious stud­ies off school premises.”

She cited U.S. Supreme Court opin­ions from the 1940s through the 1970s, in­clud­ing two prece­dent set­ting “cor­ner­stone cases” in 1948 and 1952.

In the for­mer McCol­lum v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, the court de­ter­mined that a re­leased time pro­gram where rep­re­sen­ta­tives came into pub­lic schools to give re­li­gious in­struc­tion was a vi­o­la­tion of First Amend­ment pro­hi­bi­tion against govern­ment es­tab­lish­ment of of­fi­cial reli­gion.

But in the lat­ter Zo­rach v. Clau­son, the na­tion’s high­est court de­ter­mined that a re­lease pro­gram is con­sti­tu­tional where classes are con­ducted off school prop­erty and no pub­lic funds are used.

In ad­di­tion, Grim­s­ley drew at­ten­tion to opin­ions from Vir­ginia’s at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Specif­i­cally for Rap­pa­han­nock County, the su­per­in­ten­dent pro­vided ar­gu­ments both “for” and “against” adopt­ing re­lease time poli­cies. Cur­rently, no such pol­icy is in place in the county’s pub­lic schools, al­beit par­ents are freely al­lowed to re­move chil­dren from class, whether for a doctor’s ap­point­ment or re­li­gious pur­poses..

Al­low­ing a re­lease time pol­icy, Grim­s­ley noted, “re­spects the re­li­gious rights” of par­ents and fam­i­lies, “pro­vides a means by which stu­dents can be ex­posed to teach­ing that may build good morals and healthy val­ues,” and “rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of spir­i­tual well-be­ing.”

And, she warned: “There may be a risk of lit­i­ga­tion if schools do not ac­com­mo­date stu­dents to be re­leased for re­li­gious rea­sons.”

On the other hand, the su­per­in­ten­dent pointed out that off-cam­pus in­struc­tion such as Rolling Chapel “al­ters” the reg­u­lar school sched­ule, could cre­ate peer pressure for “non­par­tic­i­pants,” might “open the door for other re­li­gious pro­grams to re­lease stu­dents,” and give the “ap­pear­ance of pro­mo­tion of a par­tic­u­lar reli­gion.”

And this sim­i­lar warn­ing: it could pose a “risk of lit­i­ga­tion if schools ac­com­mo­date a re­lease pro­gram.”

All said and done, Grim­s­ley ad­vised the board against rock­ing the boat.

“Do not de­velop a re­lease time pol­icy,” she ar­gued. “Un­der­stand that, even with­out a pol­icy, pro­grams like this may oc­cur off school grounds with­out any in­volve­ment by the pub­lic school.”

The board, af­ter some com­ments, agreed with the su­per­in­ten­dent and took no ac­tion.

Ob­served school board mem­ber Rachel Bynum in part of her pre­pared state­ment: “I agree with Dr. Grim­s­ley’s rec­om­men­da­tion that we should not move for­ward to draft a pol­icy ac­com­mo­dat­ing Re­leased Time for Re­li­gious Study, as was re­quested at our Au­gust meet­ing.

“It has been es­tab­lished that any par­ent or guardian of a stu­dent may have a stu­dent dis­missed to them­selves or an­other authorized per­son for any pur­pose; this makes a re­leased time pol­icy un­nec­es­sary. If the Rolling Chapel or any other re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion chooses to set up on pri­vate prop­erty and is in no way con­nected with the schools, they al­ready have the right to do so.

“I be­lieve it would be un­wise . . . pri­mar­ily be­cause we have a good thing go­ing at our schools, and lim­ited time dur­ing the school year to ac­com­plish the ed­u­ca­tional goals we have set out.”

Mills pre­vi­ously told the Rap­pa­han­nock News that Rolling Chapel “is not a school pro­gram and will not use any school buses or other ser­vice.”

He stressed that the school sys­tem “can­not in­fringe on parental rights to par­tic­i­pate in such pro­grams, re­gard­less of reli­gion. We al­ready have stu­dents who do this of dif­fer­ent reli­gions. Par­ents sign them out for their re­li­gious stud­ies. The school has no obli­ga­tion or re­spon­si­bil­ity once a par­ent dis­misses their child or re­leases them to a rel­a­tive, pro­gram, or ac­tiv­ity.”

It is pro­posed that Rolling Chapel par­tic­i­pants be es­corted by two chap­er­ones to a fully equipped mo­bile class­room parked once each month on a church mem­ber’s prop­erty, which hap­pens to be just across the road from the el­e­men­tary school. Its teach­ings are de­scribed as mainly Old Tes­ta­ment sto­ries geared to young chil­dren.

Pub­lic school sys­tems in Culpeper, Madi­son, Page, Green and Orange coun­ties all per­mit sim­i­lar off-cam­pus re­li­gious study as is now planned for Rap­pa­han­nock County, where it was held in pre­vi­ous decades.

VIDEO ON RAP­PNEWS.COM An unedited video of the School Board meet­ing can be found on­line at rap­pnews. com/video.

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