You might remember North Middle School in Joplin, Missouri as the place where hard-working eighth graders are rewarded for their work with a trip to a local sports complex… where the Christian staffers can minister to them. (A lawsuit filed against the District last year is still pending.)
A faculty member at that same school, we’re now learning, is bribing students with doughnuts to attend a Bible study. Clergy members are also brought in for the weekly events.
Last year, the parent’s daughter asked her if she could have donuts that the school offered for breakfast. The parent told her daughter that she could do so, having no idea that the donuts were part of a Bible study activity led by faculty. The parent later learned that the donuts were a lure to get students to attend the Bible study, which takes place immediately before classes start in the morning.
That might be legal if it was a student-run group, but it wasn’t. A faculty member was running the show.
The sessions are held in the auditorium. An NMS teacher, Mrs. Olsen, along with two to five people from a church, lead the meetings. Mrs. Olsen and/or the church staff stand at the auditorium doors to invite students in under the guise of “free donuts.” Students cannot get the donuts until service is over.
… . Adults (either Mrs. Olsen or church staff) read scripture to the students; this is called a “lesson”… Mrs. Olsen then asked someone to lead the prayers and “talk to Jesus for us” and “pray for us.” She then continued to talk about Advent candles from the previous week, and she also read scripture. One of the men from the church took over for more preaching. A child then closed the session with a prayer.
Everything about that is unconstitutional. As the letter says:
No possible secular purpose exists for the teacher’s actions in leading a Bible study club and promoting prayer during school hours…
The timing of the Bible study sessions — during school hours when students are required to be on campus — heightens the appearance of endorsement and coercion…
That last bit may be the biggest problem. When a teacher says students should attend her Bible study, there’s pressure on them to attend whether she admits it or not. This wouldn’t be okay even if there were no doughnuts. This wouldn’t be okay without the preachers. It’s not okay when a football coach leads prayer while on the clock, and it’s not okay when a teacher does it either.
The school has a week to respond, otherwise the District could face another, separate lawsuit involving the same type of issue as before. We don’t know if the kids are getting properly educated, but it’s clear the adults in the building aren’t learning a damn thing from their mistakes.
Just ask yourself: If another teacher led an atheist group right before the first bell rang, bribing students with free pasta, do you think the usual whiners (Todd Starnes and the like) would say it’s okay and move on?
(Image via Shutterstock)