Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Religious Liberty Expert: Uninformed Educators Are Mistakenly Suppressing Students’ Religious Rights

Educators in the nation’s public schools are mistakenly suppressing their students’ constitutionally-protected religious rights because they are afraid of doing something wrong, a religious liberty expert said at a a Family Research Council (FRC) event in Washington on Monday,

Eric Buehrer, director of Gateways to Better Education (GTBE), said that “for 21 years, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has issued guidelines explaining students’ religious liberties” to every public school superintendent in the country, accompanied by a letter asking them to share the information with every teacher, staff member, parent and student in their district.

However, he pointed out that most educators have “never even heard about it” – even though “it would answer all these questions that people have about what students can and cannot do in their public school.

 “But for lack of information, many educators end up suppressing students’ religious freedom,” he said.

The DOE guidelines explain “constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools,” Buehrer pointed out, adding that students’ religious rights are not just about prayer, but cover “all forms of expression as well.”

“The way the federal government looks at it is, it’s a matter of free speech and free association,” he said. “You can speak to whoever you want to, including your Maker, about whatever you want to, including your faith.”

But many teachers are “so afraid of doing something that they are going to get criticized for that they end up repressing the faith of the children in their schools,” he said.

Buehrer called on educators to “move from fear to freedom,” emphasizing that “teaching about the Bible and Christianity and creating a faith-friendly school environment is both legally supported” and “academically expected”.

Buehrer noted that the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 stressed the importance of religion, morality and knowledge in the citizenry, and recognized the part that schools play in imparting all three to the next generation.

“Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged,” the ordinance reads.

But Buehrer says that public schools have abandoned religion and morality, and now “everything is centered around just the right knowledge.”

However, one to way to restore religious liberty in public schools is to “clarify students’ religious freedom,” he said.

Buehrer pointed out that DOE protects the right of students to pray, read their Bibles and talk about their faith both at school events and in their homework assignments. They can also organize prayer groups, which must be treated like any other extracurricular clubs.

Teachers’ religious rights are protected too, Buehrer added, pointing out that they can also meet with their peers for prayer or Bible studies on school property.

Buehrer said that “this generation of young people needs to understand and cherish religious liberty” so that they can “live it out in the world in which they occupy.”

According to the DOE’s 2003 guidance letter on religious freedom in public schools, “not all religious speech that takes place in the public schools or at school-sponsored events is governmental speech.”

“Teachers and other public school officials may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities,” DOE states.

However, “local school authorities…may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against student prayer or religious speech.”

"As the [Supreme] Court has explained in several cases, 'there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect'," the letter states.

Buehrer also said that students and teachers should celebrate “Religious Freedom Day” annually on January 16th.

Since 1993, “every president has called upon the nation to recognize and celebrate the religious liberties we have here in America,” he stated, calling on schools to “join the president in recognizing the day.”


N.H. gubernatorial candidate wants ‘Animal House’ fraternity reinstated

Hazing of newcomers is normal in fraternal organizations but it can be overdone

A top Democrat running for governor in New Hampshire says he wants to restore the status of a Dartmouth College fraternity that was kicked off campus just over a year ago.

But this isn’t just any fraternity: Alpha Delta loosely inspired the raucous movie “Animal House.”

The candidate, businessman Mark Connolly, was a member of the Alpha Delta fraternity when he graduated from the Ivy League college in 1979. The former New Hampshire securities bureau chief is running in the Sept. 13 primary for governor, a wide-open race. Under state law, the governor of New Hampshire is automatically an ex-officio member of the Dartmouth College board of trustees.

The Alpha Delta fraternity was kicked off campus in April 2015 after members branded pledges on their buttocks — a violation of the school’s standards of conduct policy. The incident marked the last straw for the Hanover, N.H., college, which revoked Alpha Delta’s status on campus and banned students from living in the house.

But this month, Connolly sent an e-mail to his fraternity brothers — an attempt to raise money for his campaign — in which he wrote he had recently visited the campus and that it was “awful” to see the house sitting empty.

“I understand the position the college was in and that some of the students were not fully cooperating, but I don’t think hurting past generations and preventing future ones is the best course,” Connolly wrote in a fund-raising pitch that was obtained by the Globe. “In the coming months and years, I would hope to see AD back up and running and have its status restored.”

Connolly later told the Globe, via a statement, that he hopes his former fraternity would be recognized on campus again, “but only after ensuring they are upstanding members of the Dartmouth community.”

“As governor, I will take my work as an ex-officio member of the board of trustees seriously, which I believe precludes special treatment for any one group,” Connolly said.

A recent University of New Hampshire survey showed both Connolly and his top competition, executive councilor Colin Van Ostern, are relatively unknown to likely Democratic voters, 57 percent of whom in the poll said they were still undecided about the race.

As an ex-officio member of the Dartmouth board, New Hampshire’s governor holds the same status as other board members. The current governor, Maggie Hassan, attended at least one Dartmouth board meeting last year, her press secretary said.

A Dartmouth College spokeswoman said there is no discussion to restore the house as a recognized fraternity that would allow students to live in the house.

“There is no process by which an organization can or will be re-recognized at Dartmouth,” said Diana Lawrence, associate vice president of communications at Dartmouth College. “Derecognition is permanent.”

No criminal charges were filed as a result of the fraternity’s branding. But the incident occurred while the fraternity was already under suspension for violating campus rules about drinking and partying. In 2013, a Dartmouth student turned himself in to police for urinating on a woman from a second-floor balcony at the Alpha Delta house.

One of the screenwriters of “Animal House,” a 1978 film starring John Belushi, was a member of Alpha Delta while at Dartmouth. The movie depicted the wild antics of a fraternity house.


Australia: Funding fails to pay off in student results

Jennifer Buckingham 

While there has been some improvement in mean scores in Years 3 and 5 since NAPLAN began in 2008, the latest results show there has been no improvement to speak of in Years 7 and 9 -- and their writing scores have declined since 2011 in several states.

In terms of the proportion of children who failed to achieve even the National Minimum Standard (NMS) -- which is low compared to international benchmarks -- there has been no improvement anywhere.

Billions of dollars of extra funding has gone into schools in recent years, yet there appears to have been little pay-off in what should be the core job of schools -- teaching children to read, write and do maths. This is because extra funding has little impact on student achievement if teachers are not using the most effective teaching methods.

For example, the NSW government Early Action for Success central literacy program, 'L3', was not properly trialled and tested before being implemented to more than 400 schools. It does not meet the criteria for evidence-based reading instruction identified in scientific research, including an absence of systematic phonics instruction.

Funnelling more money into programs that are not truly evidence-based will not help children achieve higher literacy levels.

The NAPLAN reading assessment is a broad measure that flags only that a student is having difficulty, but not why. The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check (PSC) proposed by the Australian government earlier this year will be an early marker of which children are struggling with this fundamental skill and which schools are not teaching it well. Since the Year 1 PSC was introduced in English schools in 2012, the failure rate in Year 2 reading comprehension tests has declined by 30%. We can only hope it will have the same effect here.


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