Archive for Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Petition, ACLU raise concerns

School district’s actions questioned

December 3, 2003

Exceptions have been taken to recent action by the Baldwin School Board and a "caution" from the ACLU has been issued to the board concerning alleged actions by Supt. James White.

School district patrons, teachers and students are involved in a petition drive to ask the board to review its use of school district policy regarding the handling of the controversial book "We All Fall Down." The ACLU has sent a letter to the board raising concerns about "improper religious activities" occurring in the district.

The two documents aren't related, but both may be addressed at Monday's school board meeting. They can be read on page A-4.

District patrons started the petition drive as a result of what they claim was disregard to district policy in the handling of the book, which was first taken out of the freshman orientation class it was being used in by White, but then eventually returned with stipulations. In between those actions was a scheduled committee review which was first stopped, then restarted.

District patron Dave Wagner, teacher Steve Pierce and Baldwin High School student Erica Ogle have spearheaded the circulation of the petition to obtain signatures from patrons to bring a review of the policies and how they are used. The petition outlines the group's specific complaints and ends with this:

"It is clear that the USD 348 Board of Education does not understand board policy, has received biased administrative advice on how to implement it and/or has intentionally chosen not to follow it. It is evident that these actions require further consideration and determinations must be made regarding ethical, if not legal violations, of the public trust."

Patrons interested in signing the petition can contact Wagner at 594-9877, Pierce at 594-2475 or Ogle at 594-2543. Their hope, Wagner said, is for a thorough look into how policy is adhered to. They also say it has nothing to do with the book.

"I hope it's somewhat constructive," said Wagner. "I'm not saying that they intentionally did some of these things, but it happened. I think they had some bad advice and that's a significant matter. I think maybe there are some personal biases involved.

"These aren't concerns about 'We All Fall Down,' they're concerns with how this was handled," he said. "We certainly have a significant amount of student response with more than 100 signatures."

Pierce agreed that the petition is not about the book.

"There were people all along the way that wanted to say it was about the book, but a number of us felt like, 'no, it's not the book, it's the policy,'" said Pierce. "Within conversations with my colleagues, a number of us had expressed similar concerns about what should have happened."

As for the ACLU contention, Douglas County Chapter President Mary Davidson said complaints were made to her group concerning alleged religious-toned activities in the district, such as last year's appearance in elementary schools of a person dressed as Santa Claus bringing a "sectarian message" to students. The ACLU listed three other alleged incidences in its letter.

Davidson said the ACLU wanted the board to be aware of what was going on and that this is only a caution at this point.

"I would like for them to find out how many of these things are true and to caution the superintendent about these," said Davidson. "At this particular moment, we're not ready to file a lawsuit, but there are people who are. If the superintendent decided we don't need Santa Claus, we don't need Christian guidance counselors, that would be enough."

White said Tuesday he didn't know what Davidson was referring to.

"I have nothing to comment about," said White. "I sent a letter back to Mary Davidson asking for additional information. I don't have any idea what she's referring to. I don't know if it's about Santa Claus coming again or what."

Davidson said she sent the letter to the clerk of the district board last Tuesday. School was not in session Wednesday. The letter was at the district office Monday, but school board members were not given the letter at a study session Monday night.

"I'm troubled by us not getting this letter," said board member Stacy Cohen. "Why haven't we received this? It should have been sent to us immediately.

"The Santa thing I was miffed about last year and was wanting to see if it would happen again this year. I guess it won't now," Cohen said.

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