Board says 'no' to Bible class

Senior Odyssey will be an elective next year at high school

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In two momentous, unanimous decisions Monday night, the Steamboat Springs School Board voted against bringing an elective class titled "The Bible in History and Literature" to Steamboat Springs High School, and it decided to make the high school's Senior Odyssey program optional for students beginning next year.

Board members made their decision on the Bible class at 11 p.m. and cited existing curriculum at the high school and respect for diversity as reasons for turning down the proposal brought forward by local parents Michelle Diehl and Roger Johnson.

"As a small district with limited resources, do we need this course to provide our students with an adequate education?" School Board member Denise Connelly asked. "What we are seeing is that there is overlap."

A district curriculum committee found that Bible instruction already is offered at the high school in geography, civics, American studies, world history and English courses, along with instruction about other religious documents and cultures.

Part of the school district's mission statement is to "respect diversity in all forms."

"This (class) does not follow that objective," said Tom Miller-Freutel, president of the School Board.

Public discussion about the Bible class took most of the lengthy School Board meeting, as 38 people stood at a lectern to address board members and the crowd of nearly 100 that filled the commons area at the high school.

Supporters of the class, designed as a yearlong elective by the North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, said the large public turnout showed the dynamic environment that such a class could generate.

"This is an issue that a lot of people are interested in," said Steamboat resident Dan Sharp. "Let's get our students engaged in that."

Doing so, opponents said, would unfairly highlight one religion and cause increased separation among students of different belief systems.

"There are subtle feelings of religious intimidation that Jewish students feel in a Christian environment, especially in a small town like Steamboat," said resident Jerry Kozatch, who said he spoke for himself and other members of the local Jewish community who did not wish to speak publicly.

"If (the class) focused on all religions, or a few of them at least, I would love to take it," said Alex Stegmaier, 17, a senior at the high school. "It would make students of other religions uncomfortable and angry."

Joey Melius, a 16-year-old junior, spoke in favor of the class.

"This class would be well worth my time -- the Bible is one of the most important documents ever written, from a historian's point of view," he said.

The wide-ranging public comments branched at times into people's thoughts about history, morality and societal foundations.

Supporters of the class spoke about the Bible's influence on documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, quoting historical figures including Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster.

"Why would we choose to deny our children the Biblical history our country was founded on?" asked Kevin King, pastor at the Anchor Way Baptist Church in Steamboat.

Opponents cited the separation of church and state and said ample opportunity exists for religious instruction in homes, at churches or at religious schools such as the Christian Heritage School.

The Senior Odyssey program drew public comment Monday night, as well, but on a smaller scale. The district's Graduation Requirements Committee rev-iewed the program in the fall, and the board heard public comment at a recent forum. In voting to make Senior Odyssey one of 15 courses that can be used to fulfill the high school's Car-eer and Technology requirement, the board acted on a recommendation from the committee.

The board also approved an articulated foreign language program in district elementary and middle schools, and it implemented two new Career and Technology classes -- Fundamentals of Design and Medical Prep -- at the high school next year.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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