Virginia district allows Bible classes to continue

By The Associated Press
02.16.05

STAUNTON, Va. — The Staunton School Board decided Feb. 14 to allow released-time Bible classes to continue this year for elementary school students, despite staunch objections from a board member who also is a pastor.

"I think WRE (Weekday Religious Education) is wrong for our schoolchildren," said the Rev. Edward Scott, who serves on the board. "It belongs in the homes and in the churches."

The board voted 5-1 to conduct a yearlong review of the program to determine if the needs of both the students going to the classes and those who opt out are being met.

Some parents asked the school board to eliminate or modify the program, saying the children who opt out are stigmatized and have little to do while waiting for the other children to return to class.

Several hundred people attended the Feb. 14 meeting, and much of the crowd gave the board a standing ovation after the vote.

Scott argued that the lessons should be offered after school, and that studying the issue for a year is a way to put off dealing with it.

"My feeling is at the end of the year we'll find ourselves revisiting this and that at the end of the year, we will have even less will to do what is right for the children left behind," Scott said.

The weekly classes have been a tradition in Staunton and some other school districts in western Virginia for more than 60 years.

Supporters of the classes say they teach children moral values.

More than 400 people showed up to weigh in on the issue at a contentious school board meeting in December, and more than 1,000 signed a petition urging the school board to keep the classes.

Board member Angie Whitesell said the Feb. 14 motion serves the best interest of all the students.

"My conscience tells me this community needs this program, and we need to keep it," Whitesell said. "We also need a program for the children who are not released."