After the Benjamin Logan School District received a letter challenging the placement of a trailer used for religion classes, community members packed the board room during Monday evening’s board of education meeting to defend their beliefs.
The district recently received a letter from the The Freedom From Religion Foundation alleging a constitutional violation involving Benjamin Logan was occurring.
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization in Wisconsin whose “purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism,” according to their letter to Benjamin Logan.
The letter states: “a concerned community member contacted FFRF to report that Benjamin Logan Elementary School has multiple trailers that park on school grounds to provide on-site weekly religious instruction to students on Mondays and Tuesdays. According to the complainant these weekly classes are organized by a local church focused exclusively on Christianity.”
The instruction referred to in the letter is the Logan County Weekday Religious Education program, which has been serving the county’s elementary students since 1955.
The constitutional issue is not with the classes, but with the location of the trailers.
“It is unconstitutional to allow a religious organization to park a trailer, or provide religious instruction, on school property during school hours. Courts have repeatedly struck down public school practices that affiliate schools with religious groups and religious instruction,” the letter states. “… The trailers’ location on school property raises serious concerns … about the relationship between BLLSD and the outside religious instructors. The school’s promotion and coordination of a religious program is unconstitutional and cannot continue. It is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion.”
“The law is clear, it is entirely permissible to allow for a public education system to allow students to be released from education to go get religious education,” assured Superintendent Dave Harmon. “What issue they can hang their hat on is that we do that on site — the WRE trailer sits on Benjamin Logan property.”
Harmon said the board wasn’t going to act during Monday evening’s meeting.
“They’ve asked me to contact the district’s lawyer and get guidance,” he said. “The issue that our lawyer points out is that it (the trailer) sits on the school’s property.”
Community members voiced their support of the WRE program and its presence in the Benjamin Logan School District.
Alonna Watkins said acting on this complaint has the potential to have an “extreme trickle effect.”
Watkins said she was afraid to take away hope from the children.
“It’s the seed of hope in a world that is not the brightest place,” she said.
Curtis Bailey agreed.
“Our lineage is Christ Jesus — that’s our inheritance,” he said. “Christ is a hope for every man and woman who believes in life eternal.
Without hope then what’s life worth?”
Wayne Downing said to board members that he encourages them to explore every legal avenue.
“Leave no stone unturned because these folks are professionals,” he said. “They know what they’re doing (and) they do it all the time.”
Nate Wilcoxon said the Benjamin Logan community is under attack.
“If you’re a Christlike one, we’ve got to start standing up,” he said. “I believe we serve a big God — big Jesus. The holy spirit is going to direct all of you. As a community we need to start praying. I encourage you to keep standing and always be a voice.”
Renee Price, a Bellefontaine City Schools teacher, said she was in attendance to support Benjamin Logan.
“I am tired of being told I can’t talk about Jesus with my students,” she said. “I think that I want you guys to know we are all behind you … Everybody’s just scared. Why do you have to be scared? God’s going to fight for me and stand for me and I’m not going to be quiet and I’m going to keep leading kids to Christ.”
Scott Frederick, Benjamin Logan Middle School principal, said he is proud to be a Raider and agrees with everything said during the meeting Monday night.
Board president Susan Allen said the community’s message was clear and the board will listen.
Karen Dill, board member, remembered that a similar situation has happened before.
“This isn’t the first time this has happened,” she said. “The board at the time dug their heels in and did nothing and it eventually went away. I fully intend to not give in.”
Board member John Stanford suggested selling the property the trailer sits on.
Stanford also suggested that the complaint was lodged because the district is under financial strain and recently had a levy fail on the November ballot.
“We are vulnerable,” he said.
He added that the government doesn’t own the school buildings, but the community does and to him it sounds like they want the trailer to stay put.
Harmon agreed that it seems like the constituents’ desire is to keep the trailer in place.
“It’s hard to say what the board will do,” he said. “But the board is in-tune with the response for the people who showed up tonight.”
It is clear, he continued, that people really value WRE.
“I will work at the guidance of the board and will do what they ask of me to do,” Harmon said.
Community members joined hands to pray in unity for the district following the discussion.
In other business, the board bid farewell to outgoing members Stanford and Allen.
“I would like to thank all the citizens for their votes of support and giving me a chance to sit on this board,” Stanford said. “ I hope I served them well.”
Stanford served for 16 years.
Allen said serving on the board for 24 years was an honor and a privilege.
“I hope I maybe made small contribution,” she said. “All I ever wanted was for the Benjamin Logan School District to be the best school district and for the students to receive the best education around.”
The board also approved:
• a $500 grant from the Bellefontaine Rotary Club and a $9,000 grant from the Mary Rutan Hospital Foundation;
• the resignation of bus driver Misty Wade effective Nov. 29, 2019;
• a one-year contract for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year for bus driver Susan Cochran effective Dec. 16, 2019;
• a supplemental contract for the 2019-2020 school year for cheer coach for middle school basketball Christina Shotts;
• and a $25,775.82 contract with the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center for instructional aide services for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
In addition, the following seniors of the month were recognized:
• September- Gabrielle Schmidt and Mason Hammer;
• October- Emma Wenger and Vance McClanahan;
• November- Anna Blake and Davis Downing;
• and December- Mailiis Simovart and Ammon Miller.
The board meets again Jan. 14 at 5 p.m. for an organizational meeting and Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. for a regular meeting.