KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- The Knox County School Board of Education work session Wednesday night was full of parents, teachers and community members ready to voice their opinions about a certain pilot program in the district.
Since August, students with parental permission at Sterchi Elementary, have been leaving class for one hour a month for Bible Release Time.
The program involves students leaving class for a Bible program at a local church.
Sterchi Elementary was the pilot school before the program, if approved, went county-wide.
Many different concerns and unanswered questions were brought up by board members, teachers, parents and members of the community.
Jennifer Owen, a school board member, said she received several emails from concerned parents about the program.
Owen asked if the potential policy included clearer parameters regarding security, school personnel duties and boundaries.
Owen also brought up the issues about inclusivity, specifically towards those with disabilities or language barriers.
Some parents brought up concerns about bullying if a child doesn’t participate in the program.
Jenny Snead, an art teacher at Sterchi Elementary, said the pilot program has already impacted her classroom teachings.
She said students missed several lessons, and the pilot program hadn’t even been underway for an entire school year.
“Two weeks ago, we had our last Bible Release Program and I had only four students present out of 16. That was devastating to my class and I had to basically stop what we were doing. I can’t teach a lesson with four children and still be able to carry on with my curriculum,” Snead said.
Snead also said that the schools have to choose which class is disrupted by the program, and that will ultimately make teachers feel their class isn’t important.
Members of the Satanic Ministry of Knoxville also voiced their concerns about the program.
Alistair Elliott, president of the Satanic Ministry, said their main concern was keeping church and state separate, but they were also standing up for those with various other religious beliefs.
“One religion should not be represented and no other religion is. Well, if somebody has to step up, then we’ll step up and make sure that Christianity isn’t the only religion represented in the schools,” Elliott said.
She said she also had concerns about security, and concerns with the district breaking any laws with the program.
Tim Rogers, executive director of the Elgin Foundation, and a few of the board members said parents nor teachers have ever complained about students missing class for school activities, but they are now because it involves religion.
He said when he was a teacher and his students took other educational opportunities during his class, he would take advantage of that time.
“You know what I did with those kids when I had them? I gave them the best I had to teach them, while I had them in the room that day. And I would trust that educators would do the same in this opportunity,” Rogers said.
The Board of Education will vote whether to expand the program to all schools in the district next week.
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