Bentonville school board plans Bible lesson

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BENTONVILLE — A school board member has asked his colleagues to consider setting up an elective high school course focused on academic Bible study.

Brent Leas brought up the subject at the April 18 board meeting. He distributed a letter he had written explaining his position along with a copy of an Arkansas law, passed in 2013, that codified the right of school districts to offer academic Bible study.

Law 1440

Law 1440 of the 2013 Arkansas Legislative Session addresses the ability of a school district to offer academic study of the Bible course. The law allows the state Board of Education to authorize courses that “consisted of non-sectarian, non-religious academic study of the Bible and its influence on literature, art, music, culture and politics”.

Source: Staff Report

“There are already five districts in the state that offer this,” Leas said.

The board will likely discuss the issue at its pre-agenda meeting in June.

“I expect myself or another board member to make a motion that the administration add it as an elective for the 2017-18 school year so that we can have it at Bentonville High School. and Bentonville West High School,” Leas said.

Leas’ document included quotes from the Bible attributed to former presidents Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt. Leas attributed to Roosevelt: “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

A similar idea arose in Springdale in 2011. Jim Bradford, who was on the Springdale School Board at the time, proposed adding a Bible class as literature to the high school curriculum. The council tabled the idea, and it hasn’t been raised since, according to district spokesman Rick Schaeffer.

Richard Katskee, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, said if he was on a school board, he would be very hesitant to support a college course on the Bible.

“Learning the Bible as a secular subject is extremely valuable, but the chances of a school district doing it legally are very low, and the costs of doing it illegally are extremely high,” he said.

Many teachers aren’t trained to present the Bible or answer student questions appropriately, so they end up falling back on their religious beliefs, Katskee said.

Finn Laursen, executive director of the Westlake, Ohio-based Christian Educators Association International, rejects that argument.

“It would be like saying, ‘Let’s not teach math, because there are teachers who don’t understand math,'” Laursen said. “Eliminating a subject because you think a teacher might not be doing good is not having enough faith in our teachers and the administrators who oversee them.”

Laursen said he believes the Bible should be taught in all high schools. The concept has been tested in court and is perfectly legal, he said.

“There are all kinds of allusions in great literature to the Bible. Without a biblical background, you wouldn’t understand many of these allusions,” Laursen said. “Many artists have drawn images that allude to biblical characters. Biblical principles have been used to develop our Constitution. The Bible is a great book that must be studied. Until it is taught with devotion, it has great value.”

Katskee said many court cases have challenged Bible lessons in public schools and many decisions have blocked lessons.

“We get a lot of complaints from parents of students who are in classes where the Bible is taught as a subject in theory, but not actually,” Katskee said.

Arkansas law on the academic study of the Bible requires course teachers to be licensed in the state. It also requires that schools not assign these teachers based on a religious test, religious orientation or affiliation, or criteria involving their beliefs about the Bible.

The Little Rock School District offers a semester-long elective course for students in grades 10-12 titled “The Bible as Literature.” The objectives of the course are to study the literary skill of biblical passages and to explore the relationship of a variety of other stories, poems and plays to the Bible, according to a course description in the program catalog of the district for the next school year.

The Gravette School District has a long-standing practice of letting elementary students leave school for 30 minutes to attend an off-campus faith-based education session, Superintendent Richard Page said.

“It’s not part of anything we do. It’s not a school thing,” Page said.

NO News of 05/02/2016

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