From Matt Fountain of New Times SLO
Lucia Mar Unified School District administrators are trying to figure out how pamphlets for an evangelical club made their way into students’ homework packets at a local elementary school.
Beginning Jan. 10, students at Ocean View Elementary brought home homework packets, which include assignments, announcements, and other materials. The packets typically go out each week without controversy, but this time they included a permission slip for participation in an after-school Bible study group.
The pamphlets were sent out by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, promoting a group called the “After School Good News Club.” According to its website, the organization is a “Bible-centered, worldwide organization that is dedicated to seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, disciplined and established in a local church.”
“I was shocked. I could not believe they would allow this to go out to everybody,” said one parent, whose first-grade daughter attends Ocean View and asked not to be named to protect her child’s identity.
She contacted the school, which didn’t know how the pamphlet was included in the homework packets.
According to Principal Cynthia Ravalin, materials must be approved by the district’s curriculum department before they’re distributed to students. The district’s director of curriculum was out of town as of press time and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Kevin Baker, Lucia Mar’s executive director of facilities, maintenance, and operations, told New Times he didn’t know how the permission slips made their way out to students, but that it shouldn’t have happened in a public school.
“We’re still investigating,” Baker said. “I don’t know that they did go out to everybody, but so far I can [say] we’re not getting the full story.”
Baker said he was contacted by a concerned parent regarding the pamphlets. Principal Ravalin, whose daughter attends Ocean View, also said she’s been contacted by parents, but that her daughter didn’t receive the pamphlet in question in her homework packet.
Under federal law, public schools aren’t allowed to endorse or promote organizations or clubs that are religious in nature.
Dan Johnson, director of the local chapter of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, said the organization had the right to send the pamphlet out and that it adhered to school district policies.
“The main thing is that they have to treat us the same as any other group,” Johnson said. “The school district has to be consistent.”
Johnson said there’s confusion regarding the separation between church and state. In June 2001, the Child Evangelism Fellowship won a case before the federal supreme court, which ruled a public school in New York violated the club’s freedom of speech when it excluded the club from meeting after hours at the school.
Ravalin said Ocean View is currently allowing the Good News Club to meet on school grounds after school hours, but that the pamphlets probably shouldn’t have been distributed by the school. She said the school has a tenuous history with the group, which has been provided a classroom in which to meet.
“They’ve been quite aggressive,” Ravalin said. “And we want to make sure we follow the proper process.”
She added that she understands parents’ concerns and that she’s awaiting direction from the superintendent’s office.
New Times could not reach Lucia Mar Superintendent Jim Hogoboom for comment.
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