Lawyer to review religious policy

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The Steamboat Springs School Board agreed to let an attorney review the district's policy about allowing religious groups into schools.

Board member Jeff Troeger said the board's policy could violate the First Amendment's right of separation of church and state. Board President Paula Stephenson said dozens of Supreme Court cases ruled in favor of policies similar to the board's.

At Monday night's board meeting, some school board members said the policy established in 2003 for regulating outside groups that come into schools to distribute materials did not need another legal review.

But they agreed to go along with Troeger's request to have the policy reviewed by the district's attorney, Dick Lyons.

"This is such a passionate issue, it would be a worthwhile investment to get an opinion," Superintendent Donna Howell said. "Maybe that will put it to rest."

Board members also discussed whether the decision to allow religious groups -- or any groups -- into schools to distribute materials should be made by the School Board or the superintendent.

Stephenson said because the issue is so politically volatile, the decision should be made by the School Board.

"It is an issue the Supreme Court deals with all the time, and I don't believe it is a responsibility of the superintendent to shoulder all the burden and take the heat," Stephenson said.

The policy, which was written in June 2003, allows members of the public onto school grounds to distribute printed, non-school-related materials as long as it does not 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.

Troeger was one of the parents in December 2002 who led the charge to change the district's policies after learning that religious leaders were meeting with students during lunchtime at the middle school.

The issue of religious organizations distributing materials in schools resurfaced almost a month ago. In February, 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.

At Monday night's School Board meeting, Troeger again stated his concerns about the safety of allowing adult groups into the school system.

"It is not our business to gather up the children in our town so they can essentially be marketed to. That is not our role. They are trying to sell their particular religious views, and we have to be very, very careful," Troeger said.

School Board member Pat Gleason said that limiting religious groups also would curb other community groups such as the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp and Partners in Routt County from coming into the schools.

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