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Superintendent proposes religion policy

By Catherine Hunter –

Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin recommended recognition of Religious Freedom Day to include curriculum studies and an after school community program as a possible solution to the religion in schools issue. Baldwin made the recommendation during the October School Board meeting and credited the idea to the Faith Advisory Council created to find a solution to the issue.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had to work with that group [Faith Advisory Council],” Baldwin said. “They respected each other and kept the issue on the kids.”

Baldwin explained the advisory council suggested the schools observe January 16, National Religious Freedom Day, with a variety of curriculum studies exploring how the world’s beliefs shape the global economy and the world’s history. He said these studies could be used in social studies, civics, history and language arts classes. Baldwin added the training video on how to deal with religion in the schools which was recently offered to teachers, school staff, parents and students could be shown in the elementary schools.

“This would be a wonderful teaching day,” Baldwin said.

According to Baldwin, the council also worked to address concerns from teachers and school administrators that the distribution of materials would disrupt class time. He said though many on the Faith Advisory Council wanted to recommend staying away from allowing the distribution of religious literature, he added that the council did suggest an after school program to allow the faith based organizations to make information available to parents and students.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for a community event and connection,” said Baldwin who offered two options for such an event. One option would be to try a pilot program at one school within the district for the first year. If successful, they could plan for more schools to host a community day in future years.

When BCS School Board member Chip Craig asked who would organize the after school event, Baldwin said it could be a blended effort between the faith based community, BCS and youth ministries.

Board member Ann Franklin complimented Baldwin on a great job, then added that it was a sensitive issue for many of her constituents. She asked if they could find a small amount of time during the school day for the literature distribution.

Board member Pat Bryant said he liked all the ideas and suggested they add some alternative days in case of winter weather.

“A lot of good info can be added to our curriculum,” commented BCS Board Chairman Bob Rhinehart who especially liked trying a community event at one school as a pilot program. “We should try it. If we get it wrong, we’ll back up and punt.”

Several students spoke during the public comment session in support of a community day. The students said such an event would remove some of the feelings of persecution students suffer when schools allow churches to distribute materials during school hours.

“You’re placating the churches,” said one North Buncombe High School student. “How will the gays feel when the Baptists pass out pamphlets saying Gays are evil, or how will the Jewish students feel when the KKK, who calls themselves a Christian organization is allowed to leave documents?”

Things heated up during the Board Directives to the Administration section of the meetings agenda as Rhinehart had to ask board member Lisa Baldwin four times to cease and desist in order for Bryant to ask a question regarding the fairness to the public of passing motions not listed on the agenda. Lisa Baldwin interrupted Bryant several times saying, “Point of order.”

During the Board Directives to the Administration Lisa Baldwin also made a motion for a policy to address the MRSA contracted by three North Buncombe High School athletes. Remaining board members agreed they did not pass the motion because the board is currently reviewing and updating all such policies and would consider adding MRSA information to the revised documents.

The board also did not pass Lisa Baldwin’s motion that all BCS contracts require contractors to obtain all necessary permits, saying all BCS contracts already require contractors to obtain necessary permits.

The board also recognized BCS Chief Financial Officer Mary Parker for again being award prestigious state and national award for excellence in school district accounting practices.

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