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School district celebrates Constitution Week Sept. 17-23

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In every elementary, middle and high school in Delta County, Constitution Week (Sept. 17-23) is being observed with a variety of activities.

The school board is acknowledging the historic significance of the event with a proclamation encouraging "all citizens to reaffirm the ideals the Framers of the Constitution had in 1787."

At the urging of school board member Kathy Svenson, the school district will also make available a student "bill of rights" that focuses on the First Amendment to the Constitution, particularly as it addresses religion and the freedom of speech in schools.

The handout was reviewed by school district attorney Aaron Clay, who made some revisions that rendered it "content neutral."

With a final draft in hand, Svenson proposed placing the bill of rights in the hands of every middle and high school student in Delta County. But because the handout is not an approved component of curriculum, a board mandate to distribute the handouts would violate district policy. The school board discussed the matter in depth at a work session last week.

Non-curricular materials such as Boy/Girl Scout flyers and soccer registration forms are made available in the school office or library, where they may be picked up at the student's discretion.

It was explained the school district doesn't allow non-curricular material to be distributed during class time because instructional time was being impacted by an "overwhelming" number of handouts.

Svenson objected to calling the handout "non-curricular" but agreed to work with the district office to place the bill of rights where it can voluntarily be picked up by students or teachers.

"If a teacher chooses to use this material, that's fine," said superintendent Caryn Gibson. "If we mandate distribution, it takes away the teacher's discretion."

Gibson promised help with printing, cutting and distribution of the handouts, which address frequently asked questions such as prayer and religious conversations; religion in classwork; extracurricular and sports; religious clubs; graduation; and Christmas.

The bottom line: Public schools must abide by the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and the free exercise of religion. Public schools cannot censor or prohibit religious speech, expression of practice.

Students may respectfully speak about their religion in school any time they talk about other topics. They may privately pray, either individually or as a group, at athletic competitions or student assemblies.

If a school allows any other non-curricular club, it must also allow religious clubs. At graduation, students can talk about their faith in speeches as long as the student speakers are chosen on neutral criteria, such as their grades.

A school can celebrate Christmas as long as the intent is not to advance Christianity. If students are allowed to distribute gifts, then a student may not be prohibited from giving a gift that includes a religious message.

The information contained in the bill of rights was obtained from LibertyInstitute.org.

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