Chesterfield County School Board Superintendent Harrison Goodwin told members of the board Monday evening he was planning to meet with several of the county’s pastors, and a few others, to talk about the possibilities of a community-based program that would allow public school students to take off campus Bible study courses without getting in trouble with the American Civil Liberties Union, or violating the current consent order the district is under for violating U.S. Constitutional laws concerning separation of church and state in 2011.
There was no objection and almost no discussion from board members.
Tuesday evening, Goodwin spoke to a crowd of close to 300 people at Charity Community Church in Cheraw about “released time Bible education” classes that are, in fact, he said, “allowed by law.”
“It is possible. It is constitutional. And it will pass the legal mustard seed … as long as we do it right, step by step,” said Goodwin.
Released Time Bible Education was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1952 as being constitutional in all 50 states, said Goodwin, and is currently practiced in 32 states. The legal guidelines have four stipulations: 1) Classes must be held off school property during school hours. 2) Written request/permission from children’s parents or guardians must be obtained. 3) No tax dollars must be used. 4) Entanglement with the public school must be avoided.
“We need to come together and agree we can do good things, very good things for the students of this county,” said Goodwin. “But we need to be careful how we approach it.”
Several things would have to be in place to make it happen, said Goodwin. First of all, it would have to be completed community funded. Buses would have to be provided and adhere to all state inspections and safety laws. A body of people would have to form a non-profit organization, or school, with 501 C-3 status. From there, a location off campus would need to be secured and certified bus drivers and teachers hired.
“I don’t tell you all these things to say it can’t be done,” said Goodwin, “but rather to say there are some hurdles to jump.”
As for jumping legal hoops, Goodwin said Tuesday, his experience in school law issues would be very helpful in lining up the necessary steps to form the program.
Stan Sullivan, of Florence County, said a couple of their school districts have similar programs. They started the release time Bible education program in 2004 and now have four different sites, said Sullivan.
According to Sullivan, the students are taught “the Bible, and not doctrine.”
The high schools would not be able to list the Bible education class in the yearly course roster, nor could they give credit for the course. They could, however, said Goodwin, accept a transfer credit from the new school formed to teach the off campus released time course.
School board members attending Tuesday’s meeting included Chairman James Sweeney, William Watson, Wayne Chapman and Darin Coleman.
The next regular meeting of the Chesterfield County School Board is April 8, at the Palmetto Learning Center in Chesterfield.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.