The parent of a Delta County, Colorado middle school student is reporting some of the most overt violations of separation of church and state yet discovered to be occurring in western slope public schools.
The parent’s child attends Delta Middle School (DMS) and reported to her mom on Friday, December 18, that her social studies class went to the school library with their teacher, Mr. Michael Long (firstname.lastname@example.org). Once in the library, Mr. Long “announced to the class that there were free bibles available” and students “could pick one up off of a table located in the doorway of the library and take it home.” A student who noted this was a violation of separation of church and state in a public school, took a photo of the bibles on the table and sent it via text to her mother, pointing out that the table was located where students had to walk around it to enter and exit the library.
The student who did not take a bible was confronted by her classmates about why she didn’t take one, and they started shaming her for not conforming to Christian beliefs.
After finding out bibles were being distributed during school time with the endorsement of a social studies teacher, an outraged parent contacted DMS Principal Jennifer Lohrberg (email@example.com) to protest the overt endorsement of Christianity on school property and during school hours. Principal Lohrberg insisted the bible giveaway was all in accordance with school policy, and sent the upset parent a copy of Delta County School District’s policy governing posting and distribution of non-curricular literature. (pdf)
DMS Violates Its Own Literature Distribution Policy, Multiple Times — And Denies It
One must only read the Delta County School District’s policy, though, to see DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy four different ways.
1. District policy states that any “printed non-curricular material” cannot be distributed in “any classroom of any building when being occupied by a regularly-scheduled class.” The reporting student’s class was held in the school library on 12/18 so the class could do research. The library was the students’ classroom that day during regularly-scheduled class time. Moreover, this wasn’t the only class held in the library that day, or the only class in which bibles were foisted upon the students.
2. District policy states “Distribution [of non-curricular materials, like bibles] may be made 1/2 hour before school and/or during regularly scheduled lunch periods…..Any other times during the school day are considered to be disruptive of normal school activities.” This student’s social studies class was held in the library at 9:40 a.m., as was previously pointed out, during normal school hours. More than one teacher brought their class to the library during school hours that same day.
3. Delta School District policy states “Students may not be used as the agents for distribution of such materials without the written consent of the student’s parents.” Mr. Long’s social studies students became agents for distribution when they started pressuring other students to take a bible. No written consent was solicited from the parents of these students regarding solicitation of bibles.
4. District Policy states “No student may in any way be compelled or coerced to accept any materials being distributed by any person distributing such materials or any school official.” Both Mr. Long and his social studies students pressured the reporting student to take a bible. Another element of the policy states teachers can not endorse the literature. Mr. Long endorsed the bible distribution when he told students “There’s bibles and they are free if you want one.”
Policy and Legal Violations Ignored by Principal, Assistant Superintendent
The violations of Delta School District policy and endorsement of religion on school grounds during class time alarmed the parent, who in turn contacted DMS Principal Jennifer Lohrberg about it. Incredibly, Principal Lohrberg denied that any violations had occurred, and even assured the concerned parent all was done in accordance with school board policy and the bible giveaway had been approved by the District’s lawyers.
After being brushed off by Principal Lohrberg, the parent called the Delta County School District Assistant Superintendent in charge of Public Relations, Kurt Clay (firstname.lastname@example.org), who similarly insisted the bible distribution was in accordance with District policy and the school was doing nothing wrong by making the bibles available. The superintendent suggested the concerned parent take the issue up with the School Board.
Fed up with the runaround she got from the Delta County schools, the parent is now saying “This is the last straw. I have had enough.” She intends to contact the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union for help reining in the proselytizing taking place in Delta County public schools, and to protect her daughter from religious coercion in school.
Similar Incidents Endemic to Delta County Schools
Christian proselytizing is a persistent problem in the Delta County School District. Other incidents of religious proselytizing reported at Delta Middle School alone over the last year alone have included school staff ordering all students to attend a Christian-themed religious play, students in the school’s drama club being forced to attend a Christian-themed musical performance while on a field trip to Denver last spring, and offering free doughnuts to students to coerce them to attend morning prayers led by a DMS teacher. In an interview on KVNF Radio in January, 2015, it was reported that bibles have also been distributed on campus at Paonia High School and Hotchkiss K-8 School in Delta County.
Update, 12/19: The ongoing problem of bible distributions in Delta County schools was covered in a January, 2015 interview on KVNF Radio in Paonia (in Delta County) with Assistant Superintendent Clay and Andrew Seidel, a Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney who pointed out how divisive Delta County School district’s “open-forum” policy is, and how these policies contribute to bullying and isolation of students who aren’t Christians, the scenario currently playing out at Delta Middle School.