It was brought to my attention that Waupaca High School is allowing one or more local ministers to enter the school during lunch hour(s) and speak to students without their parents’ knowledge or permission. They sit at a designated table and students (apparently) decide whether or not to engage the minister(s) in a conversation. I have been told that this practice is known to the Waupaca School Board and tacitly approved by them. Here’s what I understand about the practice:
- It has been going on for years.
- It also happens at the Middle School.
- Previously, the ministers were allowed to “mingle” in the lunch room – inviting themselves to sit down with students.
- Segregating the ministers to a table seems to be a “common sense” approach to avoiding conflicts with students not interested in speaking with a minister.
- Students requested a “non-denominational” table, which would be manned by a person not representing a religion (and yet is a member of a religion).
- Initially, their demand was denied. Apparently, the students took their demand to the superintendent (David Poeschl?), who approved the students’ request.
- The ministers are not vetted – no background check, for example. It’s not clear whether they are required to sign in as visitors.
Despite the fact that this practice goes on with the approval of the school administrators and the district superintendent, I could not find a single written word about it – not on the school websites and not in the minutes of the school board meetings. When the students requested a change in the program and it was denied and later approved – where was this written down?
Has this policy – of allowing ministers into the school to mingle and talk with students – ever faced public scrutiny of any kind?
If the ministers came into the lunch room and invited students to say a prayer with them, this would be a violation of the legal principle of “separation of church and state”. The school knows this, so they invite the ministers into the school with the understanding that their activities will not reach a point where the “separation” is lost.
But who is supervising these tables of ministers in the WHS lunch room?
Here are my concerns, which have nothing to do with religion:
- The Waupaca School District is carrying out this “program” with absolutely no public scrutiny whatsoever. Despite the fact that this practice could bring serious consequences – including an intervention from the federal Department of Justice – it appears nothing about this program has been discussed in public or documented in school policy. No parental permission has been sought or obtained. Parents send their children to a school for an education – any other activity should require parental permission.
- If the ACLU hears about this unwritten, unsupervised, zero-notice practice; then you can expect them to sue the Waupaca School District. Defending this lawsuit could cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars – maybe a million or two, before it is all over. Would this be a good use of public funds?
- It is always a bad practice to invite ANYONE into a school on a recurring basis and provide them with unsupervised access to minors – particularly, without vetting them or documenting their visits.
Now, you may accuse me of casting aspersions on these ministers – that would be hard to do, because I don’t know any of them, not even by name. If you think that nothing “bad” can come from allowing a minister into a school at lunch time, there’s this:
“Last week attorney Cris Feldman filed a lawsuit against Second Baptist Church on behalf of the parents of a teenage girl who fell victim to 35-year-old Chad Foster, a former youth minister who pleaded guilty to raping one teenager and soliciting another for sex via Facebook and Skype.
Foster met the girl doing outreach for Second Baptist at a middle school in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD [Texas]. The lawsuit claims Second Baptist had a ‘simple yet effective marketing scheme’ in which youth pastors would recruit young members by showing up during public school lunch hours and giving students free fast food lunches.
The lawsuit claims Foster first met the young girl at school during her lunch hour.”
Houston Press, October 6, 2014
Yes, that’s a “worst case scenario”, but it happened.
If the Waupaca School District wants to stand behind this practice, then bring it out in the open. Tell parents. Put it on an agenda of a public meeting. Write a policy. Supervise the visitors. Evaluate the outcomes.
Breaking my promise on not making this about religion: Would WHS invite a Muslim Imam into the lunchroom?
If anything I have written here is inaccurate, then I invite the school officials to contact me with any suggested corrections/clarifications.