Thursday, February 10, 2005
Two members of an international organization that distributes Bibles recently set up a booth at Steamboat Springs Middle School, prompting complaints from some parents and reviving a controversial issue that surfaced two years ago.
According to Steamboat Springs School District officials, two local members of The Gideons International were given permission to set up a small table in the middle school arcade at the end of the school day last Friday. The Gideons were in the school for about 10 minutes, middle school Principal Tim Bishop said.
The Gideons were instructed not to speak to students or directly hand Bibles to students, but rather to remain quiet and allow any interested students to take Bibles from their table, Superintendent Donna Howell said Thursday.
"They just sat there," Howell said. "They didn't hand (Bibles) out."
"No one approached any students, and no one was spoken to," Bishop said. "(Bibles) were available if a student wanted to pick one up."
Assistant Principal Jerry Buelter monitored the Gideons while they were in the school, Bishop said.
The incident sparked complaints from several parents, Howell and Bishop said.
"The perception of the parents was that they were distributing the Bibles," Howell said.
The middle school was following a district policy written more than a year ago in response to complaints about youth pastors from a local church being allowed onto school grounds during the day to meet and talk with students, Howell said
But this latest incident, coupled with the School Board's ongoing policy review process, is likely to result in a detailed examination of the board policy titled "Distribution/Posting of Material and Dissemination of Certain Spoken Material."
The policy was written by former School Board member Tom Sharp and approved in June 2003. The policy, among other things, allows members of the public onto school grounds to distribute printed, non-school related materials as long as it doesn't occur in an elementary school or in a classroom or lunchroom during regularly scheduled class time. The distribution of printed and spoken material is allowed in the middle and high schools provided the locations of such activities are selected in a nondiscriminatory manner by the building principals.
Current School Board member Jeff Troeger was one of the parents who led the initial push to change district policy in December 2002 after he learned that religious leaders were meeting with kids during the lunch hour at the middle school. Troeger's efforts to rewrite district policy were met with resistance from Sharp and other School Board members.
Two policies eventually were drafted and accepted as a compromise, but Troeger, who was elected to the School Board in November 2003, maintains his belief that adults shouldn't be allowed into district schools during the school day for religious purposes. Religion is something that kids should be exposed to through their families, not by community members who show up at school, Troeger said.
Sharp and others argued that religious leaders and groups can be positive role models for students and that it would be discrimination to allow non-religious groups into the school but to forbid religious ones.
Howell said the decision about whether to change the current policy must come from the School Board, but added that she'll recommend to the board that the district not allow religious materials to be distributed to students on school grounds during the school day. Other public places, such as the library, are more appropriate locations for the distribution of religious materials, Howell said.
According to its Web site, the mission of The Gideons International is "to win others for the Lord Jesus Christ through association, personal testimony and placing the Bible -- God's holy word." One of The Gideons International's primary targets is youths, according to the Web site. Gideons distribute "colorful New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs" to students in fifth grade and above in public and private schools.
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