This is a possible disaster in the making but it doesn’t have to be:
School officials in the Oklahoma city of Moore say students whose schools were destroyed in the deadly May tornado will attend classes next month in a refurbished junior high school building and a local church.
Specifically, students who would normally be attending Briarwood Elementary School will be having their classes in Emmaus Baptist Church (PDF) next year instead.
Emmaus has graciously offered their facility to our school district and directly to the children, teachers, and families of Briarwood. This allows us to keep the Briarwood school family together and close to their home school location. Bus transportation will be provided from Briarwood Elementary attendance area to Emmaus. Our transportation department will be establishing those routes this summer and that information will be available to you at open house. Briarwood will continue to offer the before/after care program at Emmaus.
Before people flip out about church/state separation, there are two questions we ought to be asking:
1) Were there other alternatives?
My guess is that there probably weren’t a lot of options in the community that could hold all the classrooms, offices, students, and faculty members you need for a school to function. If a church offered space to the school district, I think that’s a genuine, generous offer on their part and we should be grateful for their willingness to do it. As far as I can tell, that by itself is not a violation of church/state separation.
2) Will there be any effort to proselytize?
Hopefully not. The school administration and church officials have to make sure that all efforts are made to keep religion out of the classroom. There may be things, like crosses on the walls, that can’t be removed, but as long as church officials aren’t doing anything to make their influence felt when school is in session, they should be okay. Ideally, the only change kids experience is the location.
It’s important to keep in mind that both sides want this to work, for the sake of the students. The last thing the school district needs is a lawsuit, and I can’t imagine any church/state group is eager to file one, either, but they will if they have to.
A tragedy shouldn’t be exploited, period, certainly not for the benefit of a church, so this is one of those partnerships we just have to keep an eye on to make sure nothing fishy happens.
(Thanks to Scott for the link)