PRINCETON – Mercer County’s Bible in the Schools program is being suspended for next year, providing time for a review of the optional class for elementary and middle school students.
Members of the board of education approved the suspension tonight at their regular meeting.
“Since the Bible class is an elective, I would like to include community members and religious leaders along with our teachers in this process,” said Dr. Deborah Akers, superintendent of schools. “In order to conduct a thorough review, we need to allow at least a year to complete the task. Therefore, I am recommending that we suspend the elementary Bible classes until this review is completed.”
However, the board has approved a secondary elective for high school students, using the text, “The Bible and Its Influence,” which will be offered next year.
“This text has become the standard for academic Bible study in the United States due to its broad acceptance in the educational community” Akers said. “Adopting a curriculum for the secondary schools sets the stage for us to consider reviewing our elementary curriculum. The review cycle for state required courses in the elementary schools is six (6) years, so it makes sense to review our elective elementary Bible curriculum at this time.”
That elementary Bible curriculum is the subject of a lawsuit filed in January that contends the program “endorses one religion, improperly entangles public schools in religious affairs, and violates the personal consciences of nonreligious and non-Christian parents and students.”
The suit also says the classes that are taught in the program are basically “Sunday school” classes, which, the suit contends, are illegal.
Jeremy Dys, an attorney with First Liberty, one of the law firms representing the school system, agrees with the board’s decision.
“It makes sense to do this review, which is more or less routine anyway,” he said. “I think it provides a prime opportunity for the community to provide their input on the future of the curriculum.”
The school system will review the program, he said, and “make sure we get it in the best shape possible.”
Dys said the lawsuit wants to end any Bible instruction in the school system at all, and the attempt to do so is based on “pure conjecture and speculation.”
Mercer County schools has filed a motion to dismiss the suit in Federal District Court in Bluefield. The hearing on that motion is set for June 19 in Beckley.
Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based firm, filed the suit and asks that the current Bible in the Schools program end.
Patrick Elliot, an attorney for the foundation, said earlier this month the amended lawsuit does seek to end the program.
“We see no way the program can meet the guidelines” that would make it constitutional, he said, regardless of any changes that may be made in lesson plans.
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