An off-campus Bible class is supported by a local minister and two former school district educators.
“It is truly impossible for us to separate the history of our great nation from the influence of the Bible,” said Grace Fellowship pastor Tony Vismor.
Former teacher Beverly Dukes and citizen Ralph Shewell Jr. said literature, history, music and the arts are full of biblical allusions and Judeo-Christian roots.
Organizer Rick Pettigrew said a vacuum was created in the American education system in 1962 when the Supreme Court ruled in Engel v. Vital that it was unconstitutional for schools to compose and approve an official school prayer.
This void, he said, “triggered an explosion of educational alternatives” such as private and home schooling. But a Christian Learning Center project in Oconee County gives public schools the opportunity to offer a religious classroom without violating laws separating church and state, supporters said.
“No response from the board is a tough pill to swallow,” said Mike Kulp, a former counselor at North Oconee High.
While defenders wait for a response, opponents called on the Board of Education to deny the request.
“Fortunately, we have many diverse religious denominations and other faith-based institutions that serve the same Oconee students outside of school hours,” Beth Lovern wrote to BOE last year.
“Our many churches and other clubs have evenings and weekends to share their worldview with their constituents and children,” Mick Gusinde-Duffy wrote in another letter.
Most recently, Brian Ipock thanked BOE Chairman Tom Odom in a June 8 email for “being steadfast in an inclusive educational environment for all students and citizens of the county.”
The BOE’s reticence on the issue does not necessarily imply disfavor, although board members took turns asking pointed questions at a meeting in June. Tim Burgess, in fact, asked a representative from the Christian Learning Center if they were willing to hold classes without receiving school credit.
Kulp explained on Monday that OCS would not issue credit but would transfer credit from an agency that was already accredited.
Pettigrew compared him to a student enrolling in Oconee County Schools after attending a private school.
BOE chairman Tom Odom said any member of the board could add an item to the agenda. In addition to department or school presentations and special recognition, agenda items require a yes or no vote.
Pettigrew said supporters of the Christian Learning Center plan to request meetings with board members until they form a quorum, which would require a publicly advertised meeting.
“We need to open a dialogue with them,” Pettigrew said. “Right now we don’t have a dialogue.”
In other school news, students will take fewer tests this year thanks to legislation enacted on May 3 this year.
“Senate Bill 364 Reduces the Number of State Mandatory Graduation Assessments from 32 to 24, Eliminating Science and Social Studies Milestone Assessments in Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Grades” , according to the minutes of a recent BOE meeting. “OCS will not administer student learning goals to further reduce the number of assessments administered to students and increase instructional time.”
Director of Studies Claire Miller said the legislation reduced the number of tests taken by Oconee County students from 54,585 tests to 18,147.
“Looking at an average per student, the decrease shows 7.3 tests per student to 2.4 tests per student,” Miller said, thanking Sen. Bill Cowsert, Rep. Chuck Williams and Rep. Regina Quick for their efforts to bring these changes.
For more on this story, check out the July 28 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores, grocery stores and newsboxes across Oconee County. To subscribe, go to oconeeenterprise.com or call (706) 769-5175.