A religious class for students will not be supported in Bowling Green City Schools unless it occurs before or after the school day.
Four people spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting, three in favor of adding LifeWise Academy as a religious-based program for students, and one against.
Superintendent Francis Scruci said students can’t afford to lose academic time in order to leave their buildings to attend LifeWise Academy classes.
As a former history and American government teacher, Scruci said he has taught the Constitution and believes in the freedoms that are held within it.
The First Amendment outlines the freedom to practice religion as well as the separation of church and state, he said.
“While I support all religions and a person’s right to worship as they see fit, I cannot bring myself to support this during the school day,” Scruci said.
A presentation was made to the board in January, asking for consideration to add LifeWise Academy to the school schedule.
With LifeWise Academy, students in grades K-4, with parental permission, can receive character and religious instruction during the school day.
LifeWise Academy teaches the younger population the values in the Bible. Classes are non-denomination and follow the Gospel Project, which teaches Genesis to Revelation in an age-appropriate way.
In 1952, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that students can be released from public school during school hours to attend religious classes. These “released time” classes must be off school property, privately funded and parent permitted.
Scruci said he had to consider the academic time lost when students leave the building, especially when still dealing with the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.
District officials have been trying to find more academic time to help alleviate that loss, he said.
“To take students out of the building during the day would be contrary to what our focus is,” he said.
The 45-minute time slot for academy classes would be during art, music or physical education.
Getting them out of the building to board a bus and travel offsite would take 20-30 minutes, thus cutting the 45-minute window to 15-20 minutes.
The Ohio Department of Education keeps adding more requirements, and staff just can’t take on one more thing, Scruci said.
The district values character education and several programs are already in place, including Second Step for grades K-8 and PBIS, which is used in all grades.
Scruci said he realizes this is completely voluntary, but it will create another level of supervision for building staff to organize, and keep track of students who are involved and those who aren’t.
He said he would consider supporting LifeWise Academy if it were a before school or after school program.
If it’s important, outside the school day should work as a compromise, Scruci said.
“As a district, we must prioritize the academic needs of our students,” he said.
Board President Ryan Myers said he wants to focus on the positive of what teaching staff is trying to accomplish.
“They don’t want to lose any more instructional time,” he said, adding that includes art, music, counseling time, library time and intervention support.
Myers said that he is not against LifeWise and would also support it, if it was offered outside the school day.
Board Vice President Tracy Hovest said that as a teacher, she agrees that they can’t take on more responsibility.
As a parent, she said that a before school or after school program would be a great compromise.
“I see it from both perspectives,” Hovest said.
The recommendation by Scruci is fair, she said.
“Certainly we can work out having a program like LifeWise before or after school,” said board member Jill Carr. “I would encourage our leaders to pursue that.”
She took umbrage at the thought that students would be leaving school during art, music and physical education because those programs are not important as the other classes.
“The development of creativity, focusing on good physical health, music and math have a great connection,” Carr said. “So there is a steep academic piece to those three subjects and for anyone to think the teachers who teach those subjects are less than those that don’t, you’re absolutely wrong.”
LifeWise offers instruction in the Eastwood and Elmwood school districts.