The Lowndes County School Board Friday voted 4 – 0 to support a school prayer proposal wending its way through the state legislature. Board member Jacqueline Gray abstained.
Superintendent Lynn Wright told the board he planned to back the proposal, but wanted their blessing on his participation. Though he didn’t need the board’s approval to show his individual support for House Bill 638, the board voted to show the district’s support.
Wright noted he and other state superintendents support the bill, because they want to make students and visitors feel like prayer is welcome on school campuses.
“We feel like we’re pushing God out of the schools, when we need to be welcoming Him in,” Wright said.
If passed, the bill — also known as the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act or Schoolchildrens’ Religious Liberties Act — prohibits school districts from discriminating against students for religious reasons and allow students to voluntarily express their religious beliefs in homework, artwork and other assignments. It also allows them to organize prayer groups, religious clubs and other organizations and allows student-led prayer at pep rallies, sporting events and other public school functions.
The House Education Committee last week approved the bill. This marks the fourth year Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, has tried to push the proposal through and the first year a school prayer proposal has passed through the committee.
Some, including Mississippi Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Sam Bounds, say the bill opens a loophole, which could force districts to allow potentially offensive viewpoints, as well.
But County School Board President Jane Kilgore liked the idea of the bill.
“I think that’s a great idea,” she said. “God needs to be brought back into the schools.”
In other news, Elementary Coordinator Dr. Robin Ballard gave an update on the district’s progress, as it moves toward the common core standards curriculum, which the state board of education adopted in 2010.
The goal of the curriculum is to teach students by a common set of standards nationwide, giving them the same benchmarks to meet with a goal of preparing them for college, the workforce and the global economy.
“This will affect every principal, every child, every parent, every room,” Ballard said.
The Mississippi Department of Education has completed training within the district for grades K-8, and training for high school teachers will take place this summer.
Ballard said, though the process is a lot of work, she appreciates the district’s support and has been encouraged by discussions she’s had with educators in other districts around the state.
“I think we are well ahead of the game,” she said. “We think we’re on the right road. We know we are when we go to other districts and see how far we’ve come.”
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.