Sunday, December 18, 2011

Public School Defends Posting Nativity Scene Despite Potential Church-State Challenges‏

A superintendent at Green County Tech Primary School in Paragould, Arkansas, is taking a strong stance in support of a Nativity scene at an elementary school in his district — a scene that has been posted for 20 years without incident.

After ordering the bulletin board be taken down, Superintendent Jerry Noble has decided to allow it once again.

The traditional Nativity scene includes the words, “Happy Birthday, Jesus,” which Noble, a Christian, is adamantly defending. After receiving two complaints this year, the superintendent initially consulted with lawyers and decided to remove the Nativity. But — the community’s reaction led to a change of heart.

“Enough is enough,” Noble explains. “It’s His birthday. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday. One person should not be offended by that. We don’t leave it up all year. We’re not promoting religion. It’s not an effort to convert anybody.”

He explains that he initially removed the Nativity, because he didn’t want to put the school district at risk. “I could not take it upon myself to get the school in a legal entanglement over separation of church and state because we would have to use tax dollars to fight it and that’s not my job to do that,” he explained. But once he removed the display, the community criticized the decision.

Then, a group came forward to support the school if and when a legal challenge against the display was waged. So, Noble decided to put the board up again. “To be honest with you, we offended a lot more people by taking it down than leaving it up,” he said.

The Paragould Daily Press has more about the legal issues potentially facing the district:

…the school district’s attorney, Donn Mixon, who advised him to have the decoration removed. Mixon admitted he was not given all of the details surrounding the controversy and was simply asked whether a nativity scene displayed in a public school was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. [...]

“I gave the opinion that yes I believe, based upon what I was told about it, that if challenged, it could well violate the First Amendment,” Mixon said. “Prayer at graduation, the posting of the Ten Commandments, those are all issues that have been litigated under that establishment clause. The courts have generally held that if public schools do those types of things… that can violate the Establishment Clause.”

The district’s pro-Nativity stance is already frustrating those opposed to Noble’s actions. The American Civil Liberties Union Arkansas (ACLU) has already said that the school must abide by the Constitution. Rita Sklar, the state’s ACLU director, has come out strong, saying that it’s sad to see Noble and others not respecting the First Amendment. Fox News Radio has more about the controversy:

The Nativity scene was erected by Kay Williams, a counselor at the primary school. She’s been doing it for more than 20 years without any hint of controversy.

“We do live in the Bible Belt,” Williams told the Paragould Daily Press. “One thing that really disturbed most of [the supporters] was we hear about things like this all the time in other parts of the country. But, this is kind of a first for the Bible Belt, here in Arkansas.”

Noble says that Christians have been silent for too long.


British Children must learn times tables by age nine under tough new curriculum plans

Children will have to learn their times tables by the age of nine under plans to toughen up the National Curriculum.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to create a ‘gold standard’ lesson plan modelled on the most rigorous exam systems in the world.

He will signal the change on Monday when an independent review publishes evidence that standards in England lag far behind other countries.

The report by Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment, a research group and exam board attached to Cambridge University, found that pupils in Singapore are expected to master times tables and division by the age of nine, compared with 11 in England. And secondary school pupils are taught quadratic equations at 13, a year or more before their English counterparts.

Meanwhile, pupils in Hong Kong learn about plant and animal cells aged ten, while the subject is not tackled by English students until secondary school.

Mr Gove is also expected to introduce separate grammar lessons in response to fears that many get to 16 without a basic grasp of spelling and punctuation.

He will also set more rigorous reading lists, including Homer, Sophocles and Shakespeare, after learning that countries with ‘fast improving’ education systems such as Poland expect their pupils to read extensively.

The Government had originally intended to publish details of the new curriculum in the New Year, but ministers have decided to delay the move for a further 12 months because they want such a radical re-write.

A Government source said: ‘We want to create a gold standard National Curriculum that survives longer than a government’s term of office.’


Many Australian Schools steer clear of Christmas

CHRISTMAS greetings, nativity scenes and carols are under attack in a growing number of Australian schools, kinders, businesses and organisations.

As our cultural diversity increases, more people are trying to secularise the holidays or appeal to a broad range of faiths, rather than just Christians celebrating Christmas.

After 39 years of nativity plays and carol-singing, Albert Park Preschool no longer celebrates Christmas. It is having an End of Year Concert rather than a Christmas concert, and there will be no nativity play or Christmas carols.

The final newsletter to parents does not mention Christmas, instead wishing parents a "happy holiday season" and a "count down towards holidays and a variety of celebrations".

"We are a community kindergarten and our community is very mixed in terms of a variety of cultures and beliefs," teacher Melissa Popley said. "I believe - and I have had to convert others about this - that to focus on just one religion is not inclusive of our kinder community."

Ms Popley said children chose to sing non-carol Christmas songs at the concert, including Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The only Christmas decoration is one tree made of tinsel and decorated with children's hand prints, she said. Ms Popley said the new approach was a reflection of the new teaching framework that requires preschools to "show respect for diversity".

Kerrimuir Primary School in Box Hill is wishing its students "Happy Holidays" rather than Merry Christmas on its
website this year.

Other schools to opt for "Happy Holidays" include Sandringham College and Bright P-12 College. Hundreds of Victorian companies are also now using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas in messages.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke said people shouldn't feel shy about celebrating Christmas. "If employers with a diverse work force want to tailor additional greetings then they could do so," she said.


No comments: