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Group of Louisiana legislators sue to block rollout of Common Core

The New Orleans Advocate reports that 17 members of the Louisiana state legislature have filed suit against State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (LBESE) and Department of Education (LDE) seeking to halt implementation of the Common Core academic standards. Their suit charges that LBESE and LDE failed to follow the state’s Administrative Procedures Act (LAPA), which was a required step that would have allowed crucial public input.

State Superintendent of Education John White and Chas Roemer, President of LBESE, respond that the suit is misguided because education officials were not required to do what the legislators are claiming. “There is no legal basis for their claim whatsoever,” White said.

The suit, which was filed in the Louisiana 19th Judicial District Court, claims the issue is urgent because public schools start in a few weeks, and seeks a temporary injunction to block the rollout of Common Core.  At the same time, Gov. Bobby Jindal is mired in a dispute with LBESE and LDE over whether to scrap Common Core and the exams that go with it.

The suit focuses on the details of how LBESE adopted the standards in 2010. The legislators contend that the action violated the LAPA. White counters that state law requires LDE to establish content standards and for LBESE to approve them. LDE contends the law “says nothing about regulations or a required Administrative Procedures Act.”

Source:  The New Orleans Advocate, 7/22/14, By Will Sentell

[Editor's Note: In July 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Oklahoman, which reported that within hours of hearing oral arguments in the suit challenging the Oklahoma legislature’s bill repealing the Common Core academic standards, the state’s highest court ruled that the repeal legislation passes muster under the state constitution. The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the state legislature had exceeded its authority by giving itself the power to draft new replacement benchmarks for the state’s students.]

Missouri district seeking social media communications of deceased student who committed suicide

According to a report on KMBC-TV9, the Carl Junction School District (CJSD), which is being sued in federal court by the Missouri parents of a student who committed suicide, is requesting all Facebook messages, photographs, videos, and other communications saved by the deceased student. Parents Jessica and Mika Nugent filed a wrongful death suit against the school district in state court that was removed to the federal district court.

The suit charges that CJSD failed to protect the student from bullying after he came out as bisexual, which led to him taking his own life. The school district’s discovery request includes all photographs, images, documents, videos, website pages, website links or files saved by the boy between Jan. 1, 2012 and May 15, 2013.

The parents’ attorneys are urging the court to deny the request, characterizing it as a “fishing expedition, plain and simple.” The attorneys have told the court: “Plaintiffs respectfully ask this court to sustain plaintiff’s objections, just as it would if defendants were seeking every paper document (the boy) and his family created, viewed or handled in a 15-month period.”

The suit alleges that the student was bullied and harassed with slurs, physical threats, and stealing or destroying of the boy’s personal property, starting in seventh grade and continuing into high school. “After coming out, (he) was the subject of ridicule, harassment, torment and bullying,” the legal complaint states. “This ridicule, harassment, torment and bullying took place both at school and on the school bus.”

The school district acknowledges that Jessica Nugent told one of the principals about possible misconduct on the bus and that information was relayed to others in the district. However, the district says its representatives are “without knowledge or information sufficient to admit or deny any other allegations” from the boy’s parents.

Source:  KMBC.com, 7/20/14, By Staff

[Editor's Note:  In July 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Claims Journal reporting that Bradley Lewis, the father of an Illinois high school student who committed suicide, had filed a wrongful death suit in federal court against Carterville school district and 3Screens.com, producers of an anti-bullying video, among others. The suit alleges that Jordan, a student at Carterville High School, was routinely subjected to peer bullying that involved both verbal and physical assaults by members of the football team.]

Indiana appellate court rules that district was not entitled to immunity from negligence suit for on-campus student-on-student shooting

Metropolitan Sch. Dist. of Martinsville v. Jackson, No. 55A01-1304-CT-182 (Ind. App. Ct. May 19, 2014)

Abstract: An Indiana Court of Appeals three-judge panel has upheld the trial court’s ruling denying the school district’s motion for summary judgment. The panel concluded the district was not entitled to immunity from the suit under the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA) because the actions alleged to form the basis of the negligence claims were not discretionary functions. It also rejected the school district’s contention that the plaintiffs had failed to allege sufficient facts to raise a material question of fact for the jury on the issue of breach of duty. Lastly, the panel rejected the district’s assertion that one of the plaintiff’s negligence claims was barred by the affirmative defense of contributory negligence as a matter of law. Instead, it found that the question of contributory negligence was best left to a jury to decide.

Facts/Issues: During his four years at Martinsville West Middle School (MWMS) Michael Phelps accumulated 50 discipline referrals, seven of which involved harassing, threatening, and physically assaulting other students. After threatening to blow up the school, Phelps was suspended from school and banned from being on school grounds except to take an annual standardized test. MWMS Principal Suzie Lipps also initiated expulsion proceedings against Phelps. However, before Phelps was expelled, and about a week before the shooting, his mother withdrew him from school.

Phelps and C.J. had a number of verbal altercations, one of which was overheard by a teacher. C.J.’s girlfriend, A.M., claimed that she told two MWMS teachers that Phelps had threatened C.J., but the teachers did not report Phelps’ threats to the school administration. She also said that Phelps’ girlfriend, N.A., told her that Phelps had again threatened C.J. On the morning of the shooting, Phelps managed to avoid detection from the school surveillance cameras and entered MWMS. None of the school employees monitoring the entrances recognized him.

Shortly before Phelps approached C.J., N.A. warned C.J. that Phelps was on campus and planned to “kick [C.J.’s] ass.” C.J.’s mother told him via text message to go to the school’s office. However, C.J. remained in the school’s vestibule because he wanted to show Phelps that he was not afraid of him and because he didn’t believe that Phelps would actually assault him. Another MWMS student, B.K., and two other students also remained in the vestibule with C.J. Phelps then entered the vestibule and shot C.J twice in the stomach. The ejected shell casings from the bullets hit B.K., injuring his hand.

The State subsequently charged Phelps with attempted murder, aggravated battery, carrying a handgun without a license on school property, trespassing on school property, possession of a firearm on school property, and theft. The State later dismissed all counts except for the attempted murder count. The juvenile court waived jurisdiction and, following a bench trial, Phelps was found guilty of attempted murder. He was sentenced to thirty-five years executed in the Department of Correction, with five years suspended and five years of probation.

Following Phelps’ conviction, C.J. and his mother filed suit against the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville (MSDM) claiming the district had negligently failed to protect C.J. from Phelps. Specifically, C.J. argued that the School District was negligent when it left Door 2 unlocked, allowing Phelps to enter the school; when it failed to warn personnel monitors that Phelps posed a threat and to instruct them to specifically look for Phelps on school grounds after he was suspended; and when it failed to instruct personnel monitors to call 911 if Phelps was spotted on school property.

B.K. and his mother subsequently filed a similar lawsuit. The trial court consolidated C.J. and B.K.’s complaints. MSDM filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from liability pursuant to the ITCA, that C.J. was contributorily negligent, and that it did not breach its duty to protect C.J. and B.K. The trial court denied MSDM’s motion.  MSDM appealed.

Ruling/Rationale: Indiana Court of Appeals panel affirmed the trial court’s decision. The appellate panel began by analyzing MSDM’s argument that it was entitled to immunity under the ITCA because “the challenged actions involve the performance of a discretionary function.” It noted that at one time, Indiana courts “distinguished between ministerial and discretionary acts in order to determine if certain conduct is included within the immunity exception,” but the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Peavler v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Monroe Cnty., 528 N.E.2d 40, 46 (Ind. 1988), rejected the ministerial/discretionary distinction analysis. Instead, the supreme court “concluded unless they can be properly characterized as policy decisions that have resulted from a conscious balancing of risks and benefits and/or weighing of priorities, discretionary judgments are not immune from legal challenge under the ITCA.”

The planning/operational test defines planning activities as those that “include acts or omissions in the exercise of a legislative, judicial, executive or planning function which involves formulation of basic policy decisions characterized by official judgment or discretion in weighing alternatives and choosing public policy” as well as “[g]overnment decisions about policy formation which involve assessment of competing priorities and a weighing of budgetary considerations or the allocation of scarce resources are also planning activities.” According to the appellate court: “Under Peavler, then, the discretionary function exception of the ITCA insulates from liability only planning activity, characterized as only those significant policy and political decisions which cannot be assessed by customary tort standards and as the exercise of political power which is held accountable only to the Constitution or the political process.”

The Court of Appeals rejected MSDM’s contention that decisions made by MWMS’ principal with respect to the school’s safety plan are “quintessential discretionary functions.” It also found unconvincing the cases from other jurisdictions cited by MSDM that concluded a school’s safety and security decisions are discretionary functions which are immune from liability.

The appellate court first pointed out that the plaintiffs were claiming the injuries injury resulted from “negligent implementation of the plan,” rather than negligent formulation of the plan. It emphasized that “under the Peavler planning-operational test, decisions involving formulation of basic policy are entitled to immunity while decisions regarding only execution or implementation of that policy are not.” In addition, the Court of Appeals noted that “even if C.J. did allege negligent formulation of the safety plan, MWMS’s safety plan was not created in a way that would entitle the School District to immunity.”

While acknowledging MWMS’ principal has authority to create regulations governing student conduct, the principal “is not a public official, and her role is not that of policymaker.” It pointed out that “Indiana Code Article 20 indicates that a school principal’s role is mostly administrative, while the responsibility for creating policy lies with the school board.” It also cited Harless by Harless v. Darr, 937 F. Supp. 1339, 1349 (S.D. Ind. 1996), which held that “the school board and not the Principal . . . has final policy making authority under Indiana law.”

The Court of Appeals concluded: “Under our reading of Indiana case law, Indiana statutes, and the evidence before us, Principal Lipps’s safety plan does not entitle the School District to discretionary function immunity under the Indiana Tort Claims Act and the Peavler planning/operation test.”

The appellate court next turned to MSDM’s argument that MWMS officials “exercised reasonable care for the protection of its students and that it was not foreseeable to the School that [Phelps] would trespass onto school property the morning” of the incident and shoot C.J. It stated: “It is well settled that summary judgment is especially inappropriate where the critical question for resolution is whether a defendant exercised the requisite degree of care under the factual circumstances.” Based on the record, the Court of Appeals concluded “that there exist genuine issues of material fact on this issue and that the School District has not proved as a matter of law that the shooting was not foreseeable.”

In regard to the implementation of the safety plan, the Court of Appeals found that because there is “the unresolved question of whether the shooting was foreseeable, it follows that there remains this question: if the School District knew or should have known that Phelps posed a threat to C.J.’s safety, should it have taken more steps to protect C.J. from Phelps?” It concluded that “reasonable persons could differ as to whether there is a sufficient relationship between the School District’s general duty to supervise and protect its students and its alleged failure to take adequate measures to protect C.J. from Phelps.” As a result, the appellate court found that the issue of whether there was a breach of duty on the part of MWMS officials was best left to a jury.

Finally, the Court of Appeals tackled the issue of whether C.J.’s alleged contributory negligence barred his suit against MSDM. While acknowledging that the state legislature had adopted a comparative negligence scheme, which eliminated the contributory negligence defense as an absolute bar, it pointed out that the legislature had specifically provided that the new comparative fault scheme would not apply to governmental entities. As a result, a government could still assert contributory negligence as an absolute bar to recovery in a negligence suit.

However, the Court of Appeals pointed out that in order for the defense to succeed at the pretrial stage, “the evidence would have had to overwhelmingly establish, and without grounds upon which reasonable men may disagree, that C.J. was able to realize and appreciate the danger with which he was confronted.” The appellate court, as it had with the breach of duty issue, found the question of contributory negligence was one a jury should resolve because MSDM was arguing Phelps’ shooting of C.J. was unforeseeable to it, while at the same time asserting that C.J. should have foreseen that he would be vulnerable to a shooting when he decided to remain in the vestibule in which Phelps confronted C.J.

Metropolitan Sch. Dist. of Martinsville v. Jackson, No. 55A01-1304-CT-182 (Ind. App. Ct. May 19, 2014)

[Editor's Note: COSA member Thomas E. Wheeler II of Frost Brown Todd LLC , Indianapolis, IN, argued the case on behalf of MSDM.

In May 2014, Legal Clips summarized a decision of an Illinois Court of Appeals in Malinski v. Grayslake Cmty. High Sch. Dist., which held that a school district was entitled to immunity under the state’s Tort Immunity Act (TIA) from a lawsuit alleging that the district failed to provide a safe environment from peer bullying. Under the TIA, school districts are immune from damages caused by an employee’s discretionary–as opposed to ministerial–acts.  The court, applying Illinois precedent, rejected the student’s contention that the school’s application of a bullying policy in a specific circumstance is ministerial in nature.  It concluded instead that the manner in which school officials respond to a bullying incident is discretionary and the school district is shielded from liability under the TIA, unless the bullying policy mandates a particular response.]

Maine Human Rights Commission finds district discriminated against student subjected to peer bullying based on perceived sexual orientation

The Bangor Daily News reports that the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) found reasonable grounds to determine that the Brunswick School Department (BSD) discriminated against a former junior high school student who was bullied by other students for more than two years because of his perceived sexual orientation. According to Courtney Beers, the student’s attorney, the family plans to participate in a mediation process, but is reserving the decision to file a lawsuit.

MHRC voted 3-2 to uphold a report by Commission investigator Victoria Ternig that found BSD had discriminated against the  student who was harassed and bullied from August 2010 to August 2012. The investigative report stated that BSD “allowed a hostile education environment to persist for a lengthy period of time,” and that the student was discriminated against on the basis of his “perceived sexual orientation and sex.” According to Ternig, the student continued to be abused despite the school’s efforts to stop and prevent it.

Beers said the student was subjected to “the most horrific offenses included physical assaults, sexual touching, and sexual assaults.” She added, “Ultimately, the minor was hospitalized and diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of the bullying and harassment.” 

BSD Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski insisted that administrators at Brunswick Junior High School took the complaints seriously and acted quickly. He pointed out the school created a response plan, but the student failed to follow the plan.

Local law enforcement investigated allegations that the student had been sexually assaulted by other students and forwarded its findings to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office. The district attorney declined to pursue charges.

Stephanie Galeucia, who coordinates the responses to bullying for the Maine Department of Education, said that she could not recall whether the Department had been notified of this particular instance of bullying, but she said schools were not required to report instances of bullying until this year.

Source:  The Bangor Daily News, 7/15/14, By Beth Brogan

[Editor's Note: In February 2014, Legal Clips summarized a decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Doe v. Regional Sch. Unit 26, which held that a school district violated a transgender student’s rights under the Maine Human Rights Act when it prohibited her from using the girls’ communal restroom at school.

In May 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in Education Week, which reported on updated Title IX guidance recently released by the U.S. Department of Education that clarified that the civil rights laws’ protection extends to all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.]

Florida teachers union sues challenging process for passage of law expanding school vouchers

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Florida Education Association (FEA) has filed suit in state court on behalf of Tom Faasse, a Lee County high school social studies teacher challenging the state’s recently enacted Career and Professional Education Act, which contains a provision expanding Florida’s private school voucher program by creating personal-learning accounts for disabled students.  The suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, charges that the law violates the state constitution’s single-subject requirement for bills.

In particular, FEA singles out the voucher language which expands the pool of families who could qualify for the corporate tax “scholarship” to attend private schools. FEA lawyer Ron Meyer said, “Somebody needs to stop and take a minute and say ‘what you did was wrong.’”  However, incoming state Senate President Andy Gardiner, who supported the law, responded that the legislation was “only the beginning” of his efforts to provide more resources to students with disabilities. “The teacher’s union may have given up on these children, but I have not,” he said.

Source:  Orlando Sentinel, 7/16/14, By Aaron Deslatte

[Editor's Note: In June 2014, Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press article in the Pensacola News Journal, which reported that Governor Rick Scott had signed a bill into law that significantly expanded Florida's private school voucher program. The governor’s action came in the face of protests from parent groups and the state’s teachers union who argue that expansion will come at the expense of traditional public schools.] 

Federal court rejects suit by advocacy group challenging Florida district’s materials distribution policy

A U.S. District Court in Florida has dismissed a suit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) against the Orange County School Board (OCSB) charging  the board barred FFRF from distributing materials in the district’s schools  criticizing various religions, says Courthouse News Service. The suit alleged a group called the World Changers of Florida (WCF) had been allowed to distribute copies of the Bible, the plaintiffs said their treatment amounted to a violation of the First and Fourteenth  Amendments.

OCSB allowed WCF to engage in “passive” distribution of Bibles after WCF had settled a suit against  the Collier County School Board over Bible distribution in that county’s public schools. OCSB cited the “Collier County Consent Decree” n declining to approve various materials that FFRF had submitted. FFRF’s suit characterized OCSB’s decision as “illegally discriminat[ing] against the viewpoints contained in those materials.”

After FFRF’s suit was filed, OCSB in January 2014 approved the previously barred materials for distribution saying FFRF could  distribute all its previously submitted materials at the same time and in the same manner as other groups. OCSB also told the plaintiffs that it “has no intention in the future to prohibit these materials.”

Because OCSB had relented on its alleged constitutionally impermissible decision, the federal district court concluded it no longer had jurisdiction to decide the matter because FFRF’s claimed violation was not moot. The court said, “In this case, the circumstances are sufficiently clear that the alleged wrongful behavior – defendant’s initial prohibition of a subset of materials that Plaintiffs sought to distribute – will not recur in the future.”

Source: Courthouse News Service, 7/14/14, By Chris Fry

[Editor's Note: Passive distribution involves allowing students to choose whether to take materials that are presented on tables, usually at a school-wide event. The district court's opinion in FFRF v. OCSB concluded that federal legal precedent supported a dismissal of the suit on the ground of mootness.

In April 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Tulsa World reporting that Owasso Kids for Christ (OKC), a Christian club that meets before classes at Northeast Elementary School, had dropped its federal lawsuit against Owasso Public Schools (OPS). The lawsuit, filed by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) on behalf of OKC, charged that the school district’s materials distribution policy violated OKC’s constitutional rights because it discriminated against the club solely on the basis of its religious viewpoint.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, the existing OPS policy stated, “no literature will be distributed that contains primarily religious, objectionable, or political overtones which may be beneficial to any particular group or business at the expense of others.” Superintendent Clark Ogilvie said: “We've passed a new policy, and everyone’s in agreement. In a nutshell, we’re not going to be handing out a lot of flyers, and we’re going to treat all outside organizations the same.” ]

Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds state legislature’s repeal of Common Core standards

Within in hours of hearing oral arguments in the suit challenging the Oklahoma legislature’s bill repealing the Common Core academic standards, The Oklahoman reports, the state’s highest court ruled that the repeal legislation passes muster under the constitution. The Oklahoma Supreme rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that state legislature had exceeded its authority by giving itself the power to draft new, replacement benchmarks for the state’s students.

The plaintiffs, a coalition of students, parents and members of the Oklahoma  State Board of Education (OBE), conceding that legislature had the power to repeal the standards, argued instead that the section of the bill investing the legislature with the authority to write a new set of standards to replace Common Core went beyond legislative branch’s constitutional power. The plaintiffs contended that only OBE, not lawmakers,  has the authority to draft those new standards.

Supporters of the repeal argue that the Common Core standards for math and English instruction amount to federal overreach. The benchmarks for children in kindergarten through 12th grade actually were developed in a state-led effort launched in 2009 through the National Governors Association. Meant to be rigorous and advance critical thinking, they were adopted voluntarily by more than 40 states.

Patrick Wyrick, solicitor general of Oklahoma who represented the legislature, told the court the constitution gives broad powers to the Legislature because it is the governmental body closest to the people and most accountable to them. He compared the responsibilities of the state Board of Education with those of a movie director. “A movie director is handed a script and told to make it come alive,” he said. “He doesn’t write the script. But here the Board of Education is claiming the power to direct the movie and write the script and the constitution vests that power with the Legislature, not the Board of Education.”

Eight of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s  justices concurred in the court’s opinion, while one concurred in part and dissented in part.

Source: The Oklahoman, 7/15/14, By Rick Green

[Editor's Note: The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a brief per curiam (without a specific author) opinion in Pack v. State that declared without discussion that the bill in question, HB 3399, does not violate "art. 13, §5 or art. 4, §1 of the Oklahoma Constitution." 

In June 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in School Board News reporting that a recently conducted survey of public school superintendents on the adoption and implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) found that although superintendents were overwhelming optimistic about the new standards, a majority also expressed concern about a lack of implementation support at the local level.  The survey was conducted by the School Superintendents Association (AASA), and is entitled “Common Core and Other State Standards: Superintendents Feel Optimism, Concern and Lack of Support.” ]

 

Parents file claim against San Diego district after cyberbullying incident led to student’s suicide

The Los Angeles Times reports that the parents of a student at University City High School (UCHS), who committed suicide, filed a $1-million claim against the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), charging that officials and staff at UCHS knew of the teasing and bullying of their son, but failed to take steps to end it. According to the parents, the student, Matthew Burdette, took his life after a video taken of him allegedly masturbating in a school bathroom went viral and subjected him to constant teasing and bullying.

The claim states that Matthew left a note saying he committed suicide because he could no longer “handle school” and had “no friends.” It alleges that the parents only became aware of the video and its effect on him from other students after the suicide. After students saw the posted video, “they teased him, they harassed him, they made his life miserable over a two-week period,” says his aunt.

The San Diego County district attorney’s office declined to say whether the student who the claim says took the video might face charges under the state’s anti-bullying law. However, a spokesman for the district attorney said a hearing is set later this month in juvenile court on the matter.

The Burdettes’ claim also alleges that the parents’ efforts to obtain answers from officials at UCHS had proved unsuccessful. Their claim has been rejected by SDUSD, leaving the parents a six-month window in which to file a lawsuit.

SDUSD has issued a statement that expressed their support for the Burdettes, but declined to comment further. The statement says, in part that “At San Diego Unified, the safety and well-being of our students is a top priority. The district also adheres to the privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations related to students, families and ongoing investigations.”

Source:  The Los Angeles Times, 7/14/14, By Tony Perry

[Editor's Note: The prevention of cyberbullying has become an increasing priority for school districts and law enforcement. In some jurisdictions, both school districts and law enforcement have concluded that criminalizing cyberbullying will have a real deterrent effect.

However, in July 2014, Legal Clips summarized a decision by New York’s Court of Appeals in People v. Marquan M., which held that a county’s law criminalizing cyberbullying violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. That court held that the law was overbroad and vague. It found that the county had failed to meet its burden of showing that the law’s restrictions on speech survive strict scrutiny. According to the Court of Appeals, “the text of Albany County’s law envelops far more than acts of cyberbullying against children by criminalizing a variety of constitutionally-protected modes of expression.”]

Louisiana district threatened with suit for opening board meetings with prayer

The St. Charles Parish School Board (SCPSB) is facing a potential lawsuit, reports the St. Charles Herald Guide, over the use of God’s name in board resolutions and continuing to open school board meetings with a public prayer. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to board officials asking that they discontinue the practices of using the phrase “Whereas almighty God …” in the beginning of each of the school board’s resolutions, and opening board meetings with a public prayer.

The FFRF letter states: “It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule prayer or pass resolutions invoking ‘Almighty God’ as part of its regular meetings. Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual.”  In response, SCPSB has removed the “Whereas almighty God …” phrase from its resolutions, but is maintaining the tradition of opening board meetings with a prayer. However, the board will now allow members of the public to excuse themselves from the room prior to the prayer.

SCPSB President Jay Robichaux said, “While the board and superintendent are committed to upholding the law, we believe strongly that moments of reflection are not only necessary, but are consistent with the values of the community we serve.” He added, “Therefore we will continue this practice (of holding prayer) prior to the official start of the board meeting.”  Robichaux insists the board is consistent with the constitution. “We don’t think we are breaking the law,” he said.  “We did adjust, but we basically feel like we are in compliance with the law.”

However,  Sam Grover, an FFRF staff attorney, disagrees with Robichaux. “We have not yet reviewed the policy as a legal staff, but my off the cuff impression is that as long as they are continuing this practice of praying before meetings they are still in violation of the constitution,” he said. Grover contends that by instituting prayer and invoking religion, the board is forcing one religion, the Christian religion, to be recognized above all others, which is in violation of the constitution.

Robichaux argues that FFRF is an outside group attempting to stir up trouble. FFRF points out it was contacted by a resident from St. Charles Parish who objected to religious aspects of the school board’s meetings. Despite there only being one person in the community raising an objection to the school board’s policies regarding religion, Grover said the actions they are taking will undoubtedly benefit others who are hesitant to speak up.

Grover believes SCPSB is being reasonable is taking some steps to resolve the dispute. Nevertheless, he warned there is still a possibility for a lawsuit should FFRF deem the continued prayer to be in violation of citizens’ rights.

Source:  St. Charles Herald Guide, 7/11/14, By Kyle Barnett

[Editor's Note: SCPSB has legitimate reason to believe it is within constitutional parameters by opening board meetings with a prayer. In May 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in The New York Times reporting that a five-justice majority, led by Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, held that a New York State town’s practice of beginning public town board meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month” passes constitutional muster.  Justice Kennedy wrote, "[C]eremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.” ]

Oregon parents organize to prevent Christian clubs from proselytizing public school students on campus

Portland (OR) area residents are organizing by the hundreds to prevent the “Good News Club” from on-campus proselytizing of public school students, reports The Oregonian. Protect Portland Children (PPC) may be the first large scale effort to oppose the “Good News Club.” Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) has organized approximately Good News Clubs in 4,300 schools nationwide.

Good News Across America, the CEF program that runs Good News Clubs, has focused on expanding into a new city every summer since 2008. This year, Good News Across America is hosting summer Bible schools in partnership with 30 churches in the Portland region. Each church will run a separate program the week of July 21, and, if they have enough volunteers, work to establish a Good News Club at a nearby school in the fall.

There are 94 Good News Clubs elsewhere in Oregon that meet on public school campuses, said Tony Villanueva, CEF’s assistant state director. In 2009, parents at a Seattle elementary school organized to ensure the after-school Bible teachings did not spill into class time. According to Robert Aughenbaugh, a co-founder of PPC, aside from that small group, he does not know of any other organized opposition to the clubs.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Good News Club has the same right to meet in public schools as non-religious educational or recreational clubs, such as the Boy Scouts. Christine Miles, spokeswoman for Portland Public Schools, said the Good News Club will not be treated any differently than non-religious groups.

Miles said the district has no set policy for getting information about clubs to parents. Some schools include details about after-school activities in a regular email newsletter; others send permission slips home with children or post fliers on a bulletin board.

CEF insists their message is “not a message of darkness; it’s a message of hope.” Aughenbaugh argues the Good News Club misrepresents itself to parents by claiming to be a “Bible study,” which he thinks implies a historical or literary approach. He finds calling a population of children a “harvest field” worrisome and “creepy.” CEF uses the phrase “harvest field” multiple times on its website.

Source:  The Oregonian, 7/9/14, By Melissa Binder

[Editor's Note: On PPC's Facebook page, it states: 

Protect Portland Children does not advocate that the Good News Club be banned from public schools. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Good News Club is legal, and there is no debate about that. Our goal is to raise awareness and give parents the knowledge they need to make an informed decision. We think that if parents understand the harm this extreme interpretation of Christianity can do to young children, they will choose not to sign them up.

On CEF's Good News Club's page, it says, "As with all CEF ministries, the purpose of Good News Club is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living."

In February 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article from The Patriot News, which reported that the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Dauphin County Inc. (CEF) had filed suit in federal court against the Harrisburg School District (HSD), alleging that HSD’s demand for CEF to pay an annual rental fee of $1,200 to hold a Bible-based after-school program is not only excessive, but discriminatory. According to CEF, other non-profits, including the Boy Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and the American Legion were not charged for using HSD facilities.] 

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