136.  RELIGION IN THE SCHOOLS - Pg.

136.  RELIGION IN THE SCHOOLS

1.        Purpose

The Governor Mifflin School District recognizes the broad religious diversity in our community and accepts its responsibility to uphold the Constitutional safeguards outlined in the First Amendment. The District is bound neither to advance nor to inhibit any particular religious belief or nonbelief.

In light of this awareness, the District is committed to maintaining a school environment in which religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness, respect, and objectivity. The public school is a meeting place for children of many backgrounds and beliefs. The school shall foster knowledge, understanding and tolerance while protecting the rights of young, impressionable minds.

It is a historic fact that religious beliefs, values and practices have helped shape, and continue to shape, the United States as well as other civilizations of the world. A true understanding of most civilizations and cultures would be impossible apart from an intellectual appreciation of their contributing religious influences. This significant role that religion and religious belief have played in the social and historical development of civilization shall be part of the school curricula.

The Board endorses teaching about religion where curriculum guides indicate it is appropriate and when the classroom atmosphere encourages both teachers and students to be responsible and to respect the rights of each person. Such teaching must foster knowledge about religion, not indoctrination of religion; it shall be academic, not devotional or proselytizing; it should promote awareness of religion, not sponsor nor discourage its practice; it should inform students about the diversity of religious and cultural views rather than impose one particular view; and it should promote understanding of different religious views, as well as respect the rights of persons who hold such views.

The Governor Mifflin School District recognizes that parents/guardians are the primary moral educators of their children. Therefore, the District will partner with parents/guardians to reinforce the shared civic values, virtues and moral codes that hold us together as a community.

2.        Guidelines

Religion In The Curriculum

The District recognizes that one of its educational goals is to advance students' knowledge and appreciation of the role that religious heritage has played in the social, cultural and historical development of civilization. An education excluding such a significant aspect would be incomplete. It is essential that the teaching about religion be conducted in a factual, objective, and respectful manner. The approach shall be academic, not devotional.

Study about religion belongs in the curriculum wherever it naturally arises. On the secondary level, the social studies, literature and the arts offer many opportunities for the inclusion of information about religions, their ideas and practices. On the elementary level, opportunities arise in discussions of the family and community life and in instruction about festivals, holidays and different cultures.

The practice of the Governor Mifflin School District shall be as follows:

  1. The District shall support the inclusion of religious themes in literature, history, music, drama, and practical and applied arts in the curriculum and in school activities, provided it is intrinsic to the learning experience in the various fields of study and is presented objectively. Religious literature may be used as an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics or comparative religions, so long as it is presented objectively and in an age appropriate manner without promoting belief or nonbelief.
  2. The emphasis on religious themes shall be only as extensive as necessary for a balanced and comprehensive study. Such studies shall never foster or demean any particular religious belief or nonbelief.
  3. When students initiate discussions, or respond to questions or assignments in ways which reflect their religious beliefs or non-beliefs, they shall be accommodated unless there are compelling reasons that would prevent such accommodation. Students shall be free to express religious belief or nonbelief in compositions, art forms, music, speech and debate. Teachers may not reject or correct such submissions simply because they include a religious symbol or address religious themes. Likewise, teachers may not require students to modify, include, or excise religious views in their assignments. These assignments should be evaluated by academic standards of substance, relevance, appearance and grammar. Neither staff nor students should use a classroom audience to proselytize or conduct religious activities.

  1. The study of religious music as part of the music curriculum, as part of a musical experience, or as part of a study of various lands and cultures is to be encouraged. In all public school programs and studies, care must be taken to avoid presentation of the music as a celebration of a particular religion or religious holiday, and to ensure that there is no bias shown for or against any religion or non-religion.

  1. The school shall teach civic virtues, including honesty, good citizenship, sportsmanship, courage, respect for the rights and freedoms of others, respect for persons and their property, civility, and the virtues of moral conviction, tolerance and hard work. Although the school may teach about the role religion may play in character and values formation, schools may not invoke religious authority.

  1. Students and staff members shall be excused from participating in practices which are contrary to their religious beliefs, unless there are compelling reasons that would prevent such excusal. When feasible, alternative assignments will be substituted.

  1. When relevant to the academic study in the classroom, teachers may invite outside speakers to provide information in a particular subject area in which the teachers may lack expertise. Outside speakers must be informed of and comply with this policy.

Religious Holidays, Music And Symbols

An objective, sensitive, and balanced approach that neither promotes nor inhibits religion can foster a mutual understanding and respect for all religious holidays. The practice of the District shall be as follows:

  1. The school may objectively teach about the religious aspects of the holidays and may celebrate the secular aspects of these holidays. The school may not observe holidays as religious events nor promote such observance by students.

  1. When historical and contemporary values and meanings associated with religious holidays and their origin are explained by the teacher, it must be done in an unbiased and objective manner without sectarian indoctrination. Teachers should not expect students to explain their beliefs and customs. A student's offer to do so should be accepted or rejected by the teacher depending upon educational relevancy.

  1. Music, art, literature and drama having religious themes or bases shall be permitted as part of the curriculum for school-sponsored activities or programs when presented in an objective manner provided these are intrinsic to the learning experience in the various fields of study and represent selections from a variety of cultures.

  1. Teachers must be cognizant of the cultural diversity that exists within the community and exhibit appropriate sensitivity to the needs of all children regardless of any child's belief or nonbelief in a particular holiday.

  1. Care must be taken in the preparation of daily lesson plans and activity sheets not to emphasize a specific holiday to the extent that it appears that a particular religion is being promoted.

  1. The District's calendar of academic and extracurricular activities should be prepared so as to minimize the conflicts with religious holidays and observances.

  1. The school shall make reasonable efforts to accommodate parent/guardian initiated excusals for students who do not wish to participate in holiday events.

Holiday Musical Programs

Musical programs or concerts presented by the curricular performing ensembles which rehearse during school hours should not be devotional, neither should they promote nor inhibit religious belief or nonbelief. Music studied or prepared for performance by these groups, however, may include religious music if:

  1. The music is selected on the basis of its educational, artistic, and aesthetic value and not the religious context.

  1. The educational goals for teaching a particular piece of music focus on the musical, historical, cultural, and artistic aspects of the composition.

  1. The program also contains music of a secular nature.

  1. The program contains a balance of music from various cultures.

  1. The diversity of students and audience members are considered and respected.

Teachers are encouraged to explain the educational goals to the performers and audience alike.

Symbols

A religious symbol is any object that portrays or recognizes the existence of a Supreme Being or deities, has devotional significance, or is part of a religious celebration or ceremony. Examples of religious symbols include, but are not limited to, the Cross, the Star of David, a crèche, chalices, a crescent moon and Buddha.

Some symbols are closely associated with a particular religious holiday but are not associated with religious worship or ceremony. These nonreligious symbols would include but are not limited to: Santa Claus, Chanukah Menorah (9 branch), Christmas trees, dreydls, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies.

Use And Display Of Holiday Symbols

Curricular Studies

Religious symbols that are part of religious holidays are permitted as teaching aids or resources provided they are displayed as examples of the cultural and religious heritage of the holiday, in combination with other secular aspects of the holiday and are limited to the time necessary for the study.

Students should not be discouraged from expressing themselves through the use of symbols in their assignments. Teachers may not encourage or discourage the reproduction of religious symbols in academic exercises.

Symbols that have been volunteered by students may be displayed and used for class discussion provided that the symbols are relevant to the study at hand and that they are removed from display upon completion of the discussion.

Hallways/Common Areas/Classrooms

The display of student initiated posters depicting, encouraging, or inviting religious thought or action, shall be governed by the same regulations pertaining to the display of all other posters in the school.

Nonreligious symbols may be displayed if the display represents a variety of faiths and cultures celebrating holidays at about the same time. An appropriate December display may include a Christmas tree, a Chanukah Menorah, Santa Claus, a dreydl, a Kwanzaa mat with corn and fruit, a Kinara (the candle holder used at Kwanzaa) and a snowman.

Speech, Literature Distribution And Clothing

It is the intent of this policy to recognize the free speech rights of public school students and staff.

Students may verbally express their ideas during class so long as their verbal expressions are related to the subject matter being taught.

Students have the right to pray individually, or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. During noninstructional times students enjoy the right to read religious literature and to discuss religion with other students as long as the listeners do not feel coerced or harassed. The right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate.

During noninstructional time, students have the right to dialogue with their peers about religious topics just as they do about political topics. School officials shall stop a student's speech if it turns into harassment.

Teachers and staff, when acting in their official capacity, may not encourage or solicit student religious or anti-religious activity, nor engage in any such activities with the students. However, teachers and staff may engage in private religious activity during their lunch period or non-contractual hours.

Students have the right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates, during noninstructional time, subject to those reasonable times, places, and manners or other constitutionally acceptable restrictions imposed on the distribution of all nonschool literature. A school may not single out religious literature for burdensome regulation.

Religious messages or symbols on student clothing may not be singled out for suppression, so long as they are not inappropriate and do not infringe on the rights of other students. Students may wear religious attire, such as yarmulkes and headscarves, and they may not be forced to wear gym clothes that they regard, on religious grounds, as immodest.

This right to free speech does not include infringing on the rights of others, nor disrupting the normal operation of the school. Infringing would involve defamatory expressions against other students. Disrupting the normal operation of the school means that the speaker causes the disruption. It does not mean that other students must agree with the speaker. Examples of disruptive speech include forcing other

students to listen by shouting or preventing passage, and engaging in speech activities during instructional time which is not consistent with or related to the subject being taught. Noninstructional time means before or after school hours, between classes, and during lunch or recess times.

Student Meetings And Clubs

It is the intent of this policy to provide nondiscriminatory guidelines for student meetings and for the continued operation of noncurriculum student clubs.

  1. These meetings shall be initiated and led by the students, with no sponsorship by the school. Student attendance shall be voluntary.

  1. The school may not discriminate against students who wish to conduct a meeting during noninstructional time, on the basis of the religious, political or philosophical content of the speech at the meeting.

  1. Student participation in, before, or after school religious events on campus is permissible. School officials, acting in an official capacity, may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such events.

  1. Student religious clubs are permitted to meet and to have the equivalent access to campus facilities, schedules and media that all other noncurriculum clubs have. Teachers may not actively participate in club activities. "Nonschool persons" may not control or regularly attend religious club meetings. Teachers and staff may be present at religious meetings only in a non-participatory custodial capacity.

Nothing in this policy shall be construed to limit the authority of the school, its agents or employees, to maintain order and discipline on school premises, to protect the well being of students and faculty, and to assure that attendance of students at meetings is voluntary.

Ceremonies And Recognitions

Traditions are a part of the community life and the Governor Mifflin School District expresses an interest in maintaining those traditions which are significant to the community.

Participation of school personnel in ceremonies and recognitions will be of a nonreligious nature and will focus upon the educational purpose of the ceremony or recognition.

Baccalaureate services are traditionally religious in nature and may be sponsored by individuals or groups separate from the Governor Mifflin School District. Attendance at such services is entirely voluntary, with students and school personnel acting as private individuals. Groups or individuals planning baccalaureate services may rent and use school facilities under the terms, conditions, and rates prescribed by the District.

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