Tuesday December 1st, 2015 5:02PM

Schofield reminds system employees of religious rights, limitations

By B.J. Williams News Director
GAINESVILLE - Hall County School Superintendent Will Schofield said Tuesday he does not plan to issue a public response to a letter written last week by an atheist group complaining about prayers involving Chestatee High School's football team.<br /> <br /> "I don't spend much time reacting quickly to letters from people who live a thousand miles away," said Schofield about a letter from the American Humanist Association in Washington, D.C.<br /> <br /> Instead, Schofield issued an email memo Tuesday morning to all school system employees, reminding them of their religious rights - and their limitations, as well. <i>(See full content of the email at the end of this story.)</I><br /> <br /> "Our School Board and I just felt like it was time to remind them that there's no change, that it's the same guiding principles that we've always operated under in this area," said Schofield. <br /> <br /> After the letter was made public Tuesday, August 12, Schofield said teachers and parents began to ask questions of him and school board members about what their constitutional rights are when it comes to religious expression at school. <br /> <br /> He said students have an almost unlimited right to express their views.<br /> <br /> "They can pray, they can choose not to pray, they can try to talk their classmates into believing what they believe - as long as they are respectful of the individuals around them and don't disrupt the school," said Schofield.<br /> <br /> The bigger question, perhaps, was sparked by the letter from the AHA: how much is a teacher limited when it comes to religious expression? The AHA accused a Chestatee football coach of leading prayer with the football team.<br /> <br /> In his memo, Schofield noted that "they [teachers, administrators, school employees] must not be leading students in prayer during school or school-sponsored activities, nor may they require or pressure students to participate in religious activities." <br /> <br /> So what is a teacher to do if a student asks for a teacher to pray?<br /> <br /> "I think those are individual circumstances," said Schofield. "Teachers need to rely on their consciences and they need to rely on their relationship with students. But, let me be clear, one of the most important jobs of a teacher is to develop relationships and support students, and again, that is a very individual case-by-case [situation]."<br /> <br /> And if a teacher oversteps his or her limits, Schofield said that will be addressed.<br /> <br /> "Do well-intended people sometimes cross the line? Of course they do. We don't fire them, we don't have a public hanging. We put an arm around them and say 'You know, that might have gone a little too far. Let's talk about that, let's look at it, let's move on from here.'"<br /> <br /> Monica Miller, a representative of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center,<br /> American Humanist Association in Washington, D.C., declined comment on Schofield's comments and message at this time. <br /> <br /> "I will wait until we receive a formal response from the school before commenting," Miller said. <br /> <br /> (AccessNorthGa.com's Brian Stewart and Ken Stanford contributed to this story.)<br /> <br /> ********************************************************************************<br /> <br /> <br /> The following is the full content of the email distributed to Hall County School System employees by Superintendent Will Schofield:<br /> <br /> <i>We have begun the 2014-15 school year with over 27,000 students, and our employees are to be commended for a great start. We have an incredible team in place, and I thank you for your efforts to make the Hall County School District "The Most Caring Place on Earth."<br /> <br /> We have received some recent questions from our community and employees regarding recurring Constitutional issues. It is impossible to devise a "manual" to cover every particular situation. Additionally, case law is often mixed and does not provide definitive answers. However, there are a few issues that are clear and that the Hall County School Board and I have always relied upon as guiding principles:<br /> <br /> <b>*The Hall County School District wholeheartedly defends the almost unlimited rights of students to exercise their religious beliefs. As long as activities do not infringe upon or disrespect the religious beliefs of others, or disrupt classroom instruction or school routines, students have the right to pray, read religious materials, talk to their classmates about their beliefs, and following district protocol, form clubs or associations with students who share similar interests. Voluntary, student-led prayers fall within these criteria.<br /> <br /> *Hall County Schools will continue to be a place that celebrates our nation's founding principle of respecting differing viewpoints. Once again, as long as the expression of individual beliefs is not disruptive or harmful to others, we will cultivate and strive to model a culture of respect.<br /> <br /> *By law, and under current legal interpretation by the courts, public school employees on the job do not enjoy the same level of religious freedom at school as do our students, yet their religious rights do not evaporate at the schoolhouse gate. Teachers, coaches, administrators, and other school employees may live out their faith in a variety of ways; however, they must not be leading students in prayer during school or school-sponsored activities, nor may they require or pressure students to participate in religious activities.</b><br /> <br /> Our district routinely examines church/state issues. My leadership team relies on open communication and a healthy respect for differing views as we continually review current practices. I have great faith in the judgment of our local leaders to provide guidance and make changes when necessary. As always, I encourage our team and community members to bring any issues or concerns you have to your local principal or supervisor and we will do our best to provide guidance.</i><br /> <br />
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
2014 Top 10: Looking back at the top sports stories of the year
It was another year for the record books in 2014, mostly for the right reasons -- state championships, new challenges and new stars taking their turn to shine. But there were also plenty of big stories that reminded us that sports -- like life -- isn
11:55PM ( 11 months ago )
NASCAR K&N Pro Series schedules set for 2015
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - NASCAR announced recently the 2015 schedules for its top developmental regional touring series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
2:00PM ( 11 months ago )
Lanierland boys final: Johnson makes history with win over Red Elephants <b> (VIDEO) </b>
Ever the aggressor on the court, Johnson
8:55AM ( 11 months ago )
Lanierland boys semifinals: Unbeatens Johnson, Red Elephants roll into finals
Both Gainesville and Johnson powered their way into the Lanierland Tournament finals on Monday. The two undefeated teams will meet Tuesday for the title at 8:30 p.m. at Chestatee.
10:01AM ( 11 months ago )
Lanierland girls semifinals: GHS, Lady Falcons advance to finals <b> (VIDEO) </b>
Flowery Branch and Gainesville each took impressive wins Monday to advance to the Lanierland Tournament finals...
10:00AM ( 11 months ago )
Girls basketball: Lady Tigers advance to Pickens Holiday finals
The Dawson County girls basketball advanced to the finals of the Pickens Holiday Classic after an 81-54 win over Riverwood Monday.
11:48PM ( 11 months ago )
High School Sports
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 11 months ago )
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 11 months ago )
Sheriff: Man shot 2 on I-85 because he wanted car
A 22-year-old man shot two people who stopped to give him a ride on Interstate 85 in South Carolina on Christmas Eve because he wanted their car to drive to Georgia, a sheriff said Wednesday.
5:21PM ( 10 months ago )
Local/State News
Committee leaves transportation funding to lawmakers
Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive, a committee of lawmakers is warning in a report issued Tuesday.
5:36AM ( 11 months ago )
US off war footing at year's end, but wars go on
Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.
6:13PM ( 11 months ago )
FCA East-West contest gives one more shot for area stars to shine <b>(VIDEO)</b>
Talk to the coaches, players and fans lucky enough to take part on Friday, and it
12:13PM ( 11 months ago )
High School Football 2014: A special season brings with it many firsts
The FCA East-West All-Star Game wraps up the 2014 campaign tonight in Gainesville. And oh what a season it has been...
9:30PM ( 11 months ago )
Four area teams finish season ranked inside top 10
Four area teams ended the 2014 season ranked inside the top 10 of the Georgia Sports Writers Association Prep Football Poll.
10:55AM ( 11 months ago )
Friday Game Night
Car occupant killed, 6 children injured in wreck with school bus on Cleveland Highway in Hall County
Hall County emergency services officials confirmed a person traveling in a passenger car was killed Tuesday afternoon in a traffic accident with a school bus in north Hall County.
3:23PM ( 1 hour ago )
NY man arrested in Gainesville for breaking into cars
A New York man is behind bars on multiple entering auto charges in the Riverside Drive area of Gainesville.
2:03PM ( 2 hours ago )
Several residents displaced, firefighter taken to hospital after Barrow house fire
The Barrow County Fire Investigation Team is looking for the cause of an early Monday morning fire that damaged a home on Matthew School Road.
12:28PM ( 4 hours ago )
US manufacturing fell in November due to declines in new orders and low oil prices
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factory activity plummeted last month to the lowest level in more than six years, with a stronger dollar and low oil prices cutting new orders and hurting production.The Institu...
12:23PM ( 4 hours ago )
UNG announces details for fall commencement on Dahlonega, Gainesville campuses
The University of North Georgia (UNG) will hold its fall commencement ceremonies on Friday, Dec. 11, and Saturday, Dec. 12 on the university's Gainesville and Dahlonega campuses.
By AccessWDUN Staff
11:15AM ( 5 hours ago )