GREENFIELD — The donors who offered $50,000 to the Greenfield-Central High School artificial turf project have withdrawn their offer amid recent controversy over a logo they asked be put on the football field.
Debate in recent weeks centered on whether #blesstheworld — and the religious connotation board members worried the phrase carried — was appropriate to paint on the school’s new artificial turf field, which is estimated to cost some $820,000.
Superintendent Harold Olin presented the anonymous five-member group’s $50,000 offer to the school board at its March 13 meeting with the recommendation to accept the donation; board members tabled the proposal, however, after discussing whether the use of the word, “bless” could open the district to a lawsuit.
As news of the donation spread, parents and community members weighed in on social media; most who commented on the Daily Reporter’s story expressed support for the logo, while some questioned the legal risks of painting #blesstheworld — which locally is tied to Park Chapel Christian Church’s pay-it-forward campaign — on the field.
Tuesday, the donors sent a second letter to the school board, withdrawing the offer. Their letter states:
“The intent of sponsoring the turf field project was to give back to the community and to encourage others to do the same by having our sponsorship represented by the logo, #blesstheworld. The group views this as a positive message that includes everyone.
“It promotes giving back, making a difference and helping others through acts of kindness. However, there have been some concerns expressed about the logo causing the school system potential problems. The group does not wish for this to become something polarizing, negative or problematic, so, the group is withdrawing our request to be sponsors. We would like to thank Greenfield-Central schools for their consideration.”
Board member Steve Menser, who first raised concerns about the logo — even reading the definition of the word, bless, aloud during the March meeting, said he was concerned the school district could face legal trouble if it seemed to endorse a religion.
He recalled the recent lawsuit filed against the town of Knightstown by the American Civil Liberties Union regarding a cross placed on the grounds of the town hall, he said.
“I didn’t want to end up costing the school corporation more than the value of the donation in legal fees,” he said.
The school board’s policy on gifts to the district states board members may reject the offer if they deem it inappropriate; there are no rules specifically about religious or political statements, school officials said
Greenfield-Central Community School Corp. board president Retta Livengood said while she was saddened by the prospective donors’ decision to withdraw their offer, she respected the choice.
“I was completely honored and surprised that members of our community would step up with such a generous donation,” Livengood said.
Livengood said she hopes the withdrawal of the donation will not stall the district’s forward momentum on the artificial turf project, because she believes the addition of artificial turf will prove beneficial for everyone who uses the football field, from sports teams to the marching band.
The Rev. Danny Curry of Park Chapel Christian Church spoke on behalf of the donors, while noting the donation is not officially from the church.
He said when it became clear that the donation could be problematic for the school board, the group felt “the kind thing to do was to withdraw the request.”
“The entire intent was to do something positive and spread a positive message,” Curry said. “I think that got lost maybe,” Curry said.
“This crew, I think, is really respectful of leadership … I think there’s just a willingness to appreciate (the board’s) role in making decisions.”
Curry said he wasn’t sure whether the donors considered offering their money without the controversial hashtag; though the group sponsorship had been withdrawn,“how each individual donor will proceed is up to them”
Menser said he personally had no issue with the message of the emblem, adding he’s a member of Park Chapel Christian Church and wears a #blesstheworld bracelet in support of the campaign.
“I am in support of the concept,” he said, “but as a board member, I have to protect the school district from frivolous lawsuits.”