McCORDSVILLE — A teacher’s note asking children not to talk about God in class has sparked controversy among parents who argued their children have the right to talk about their beliefs.
And the school system agreed, issuing a new release stating school policy allows students to discuss religion or other personal beliefs so long as it doesn’t interrupt class time. The teacher also sent home an apology.
On Wednesday, a McCordsville Elementary School teacher sent a newsletter home with students reminding their parents of homework assignments and upcoming school events. It also included a section labeled “School language,” asking parents to “please have a talk with your child about there being an appropriate time and place of talking about” religion.
The teacher wrote that five students had been talking about God, Jesus and the devil at school. The teacher had intervened once, but the topic came up again, the letter states.
“With McCordsville Elementary being a public school, we have many different religions and beliefs, and I do not want to upset a child (or) parent because of these words being used,” the teacher wrote.
The letter upset some parents who believe their children should be able to express and share their beliefs; one took to social media, posting the letter to Facebook.
Superintendent Shane Robbins said the teacher’s letter came in response to an incident this week involving a debate about religion among students in the class.
District leaders have since met with the teacher to address the letter and review the district’s policy on students’ rights to discuss religion so long as it doesn’t disrupt class, Robbins said.
Renee Beeler, who has a daughter in the class, said the teacher sent a letter home Thursday apologizing for the note.
Beeler said when she got the first letter, she was speechless. She felt her daughter’s rights were being stomped on.
“That just shows kids that you can’t have your own beliefs or your own thoughts or feelings,” she said. “I was outraged by it.”
She took to social media to share the note, and her post generated dozens of comments.
She said she’s since talked with her daughter about her right to discuss religion during her free time at school, while reminding her it shouldn’t be discussed when she’s supposed to be working on other assignments.
The district’s policy aligns with districts’ policies across the county, stating employees can neither advance nor inhibit religious views, and trying to limit a student’s view on religion is a violation of a student’s first amendment rights.
Robbins said he believes the incident was an innocent mistake, one the district will learn from.
“It is the position of the Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation to respect the diversity of our students. In doing so, we will address sensitive topics with compassion while maintaining the integrity of our academic environment. Our goal is to build bridges with our patrons and not put up roadblocks,” Robbins said.
Mt. Vernon School Board’s policy on religious expression is clear, district leaders state. It reads, in part:
“…the free exercise of religion is guaranteed within the school, and the freedom of each student to either engage in or refrain from religious observation on school grounds is subject to the least possible coercion.”