Thursday, December 05, 2013

Religion Comes to School

There was an interesting story from Inside Bainbridge about Bainbridge Island School district about some volunteers who were youth pastors.  An investigation was launched and the district has promised to improve its volunteer screening. 

The story was about a middle school where three evangelical youth pastors had been volunteering over the last year, mostly in the lunchroom and at registration.  There were several issues to this story.

One, was that normally the PTA (or, in this case, the PTO) recruits volunteers and the PTO tracks their schedules.  That was not the case here.  (To note, anyone can volunteer in most public schools whether a parent or not.)  Several parents said they were not accusing anyone but raising the issue of who was volunteering in their schools. 


Two, the principal claimed there were different levels of background checks for volunteers and only two of the pastors had been checked and none of them had had a fingerprint background check.  The principal said this was because they were never going to be alone with the kids and other staff were around.  I find this a pretty lame reasoning because volunteers never know when they might actually be alone with a student i.e. taking a sick student to the restroom.  What's quite odd is the principal said the parents don't go through a background check.  Well, there's a lawsuit waiting to happen. 

Three, although there were no claims that the pastors were proselytizing or recruiting, some kids said they were "creepy" and said that some kids were asked if they wanted to go to off-campus activities.  A few kids reported some inappropriate physical contact (although it does not sound like it was sexual in nature).

Four, the district seems to have its own problems with communications.  In the investigation report, the district said it was clear that parents did not know the process for filing complaints with the district and that they need to have clearer volunteer guidelines.  There were complaints, though, that the meeting about the issue came the same day that the report was issued and parents felt they didn't have enough time to read it, circulate it to other parents and then comment on it.  This district had no explanation for this.

I haven't heard a lot of concerns raised about religion in SPS.   I know that in the past there was one elementary school where was concern over an after-school "Good News" christian club that some parents said try to recruit members - via students - during the school day.  I also know that several schools provide a quiet place for Muslim students to pray during the day if they so choose. 

I like to think that our district and schools do a pretty good job on volunteers and who is working with children.  I think that is one reason to be careful with any partnerships the district sets up with outside groups.  The district needs to be sure that everyone working with children has a background check and any other required information/check.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...
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mirmac1 said...

And I would add everyone who has access to our students' data should have a background check. period.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reprinting because I noticed this as well and it is funny:

Somewhat amusing that the name of the Bainbridge Island Schools Superintendent is Faith Chapel.

M. Jackson said...

Letting priests (or any form of religion) anywhere near our schoolchildren is a form of abuse and crime on several levels. And a violation of the state/church separation rules. End of discussion.

Here is a place to start with respect to priests and background checks.

http://bishop-accountability.org/priestdb/PriestDBbylastName-A.html

Lynn said...

M. Jackson,

What about ministers who are parents? Should they not be allowed to volunteer in their children's schools? You are not making sense.

You won't convince anyone to agree with you if you refuse to enter into discussions.

Anonymous said...

M. Jackson, are you for real? If so, wow.

-just wow

Eric B said...

Everyone volunteering in the school should have a background check. The whole point of volunteering is to do something so that school employees don't have to do it themselves. That means that they're not being monitored 100% of the time by other adults. I don't know that the full fingerprint routine is necessary, but the basic name/birthdate/etc. one from the State Patrol is a no-brainer.

I don't have a real problem with people from religious groups volunteering in schools, provided that they keep their religious life separate form their volunteering life. The Good News Club definitely crossed that bound, and it sounds like these pastors may have also, if they invited students to religious events after school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, the issue is the background checking of anyone who volunteers.

In the article, the superintendent does say that there is policy around volunteers not talking about religious beliefs while volunteering so they do have that in place.

I am happy when anyone wants to volunteer and it's good for kids to see all kinds of people helping out in their buildings. The vital thing is to check everyone who comes in AND to make sure everyone knows the policies around volunteering.

Off Limits said...

Youth pastors volunteering at schools isn't limited to Bainbridge Island. Their intent is to promote religion.

Youth pastors were volunteering during lunch time at our local school. One youth pastor was observed following a student and asking the student to meet him at a religious event that was scheduled for a Friday night. The youth pastor told the student he would transport the student to the activity. The student was NOT interested in talking to this guy, but that didn't seem to matter.

It is inappropriate for ANY volunteer to ask students to meet them- anywhere.

seattle citizen said...

This was ten years ago, and I'm sure it wouldn't be happening now, but a teacher I know very, very well was once asked to help another teacher in summer school. That teacher was teaching LA and history, and English was her second language:students were complaining they couldn't understand her. So this teacher I know is sent in to sort of co-teach (!) and finds the teacher teaching about the Continental Congress. She's holding up a picture of that event, and points to the men considering our nation's future.
"What brought these men to this important task, students? God! He brought them together to form our nation, and since then we have all these troubles because we have forgotten what created this great nation!"
or words to that affect....
My teacher friend sat thre, mouth hanging open, aghast. After class, he approached her and said something about separation of church and state, young minds impressionable and all that...the other teacher was defensive and offended, saying the kids should know the "truth."
It's sometimes difficult for a teacher to keep their beliefs out of the classroom, but this was, prima facia, over the top.
Parent/guardians might help by being vigilant, and when hearing of such blatant opinionating, bring it up. Even if the p/g is Christian and believes the same, it's so important to keep this sort of thing from happening.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Christian, but I rather like the latest on dit over the Pope's regard for "trickled down economics." Something to liven up an economics 101 discussion.

Hmm, could it be socialist Sawant is closer to the right hand of you know who than we realized? Oh dear!

-more please