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Clarion School Board Responds to Policy Issues Raised by Pennsylvania Family Institute; ‘A One-Sentence Fix’

Thursday, February 13, 2020 @ 12:02 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

4E2E6C95-7C5D-487F-BAEB-780D9088C4B5_1_201_aCLARION, Pa (EYT) – Clarion Area School Board on Tuesday night responded to concerns raised by the Independence Law Firm (ILC), that describes itself as a public-interest law firm affiliated with the Pennsylvania Family Institute, an organization that works to preserve religious liberty, promote marriage and family and protect human life.

ILC sent letters to Clarion Area and Oil City, along with other western Pennsylvania school districts informing the districts that their school board policy manuals contain language that is violating students’ First Amendment rights.

ILC maintains that the districts have an unconstitutional speech policy that targets religious speech in the school board policy manuals.

School board members approved the first reading of two policy additions.

“These two are tied together and it’s verbiage that we were notified by ICL Harrisburg,” said Superintendent Joe Carrico. “They’re a watchdog group and they look for policies that may be illegal and they sent us a note that we need to update our policy for student religious freedoms and discussions around the school.

“It’s about a one-sentence fix. We had notification from PSBA and we had Solicitor Logue review it for us to make sure we were covered. This will bring us up to code and the policy was last reviewed in 2002. There were a couple of lawsuits between 2002 and now that drove that process. There were about 55 school districts in western Pennsylvania that received the same letter. I notified their attorney yesterday that we were doing the first reading tonight and in March will do the second reading.”

Points made in the two first readings include:

  • School officials shall not censor or restrict non-school materials or other student expressions for the sole reason that it is critical of the school or its administration, or because the views espoused are unpopular or may make people uncomfortable.
  • Student-initiated religious expression is permissible and shall not be prohibited except as to time, place and manner of distribution, or if the expression involved violates some other part of this policy, e.g., because it is independently determined to be unprotected expression under the standards and definitions of this policy.
  • The review for unprotected expression shall be reasonable and not calculated to delay distribution.
  • Students have the responsibility to act in accordance with Board Policy 220. Student Expression/Distribution and Posting of Materials (Policy 220), to obey laws governing libel and obscenity, and to be aware of the full meaning of their expression.
  • Students have the responsibility to be aware of the feelings and opinions of others and to give others a fair opportunity to express their views.
  • These procedures address the distribution and posting of non-school materials that are not part of the curricular or extracurricular program of the district. Materials sought to be distributed or posted as part of the curricular or extracurricular program of the district will be regulated as part of the district’s educational program and are not subject to the time, place and manner provisions set forth herein.
  • The Board recognizes that non-school organizations, groups, and individuals may wish to utilize the district as a means to engage the school community in activities and/or to distribute or post nonschool materials. The Board directs that requests for such utilization from non-school organizations, groups or individuals shall be governed
    by this policy.

In other business:

Braxton White presented a brief Career Center Report.

“We discussed and posted our director position again,” said White. “If we want to have someone full-time we’re going to have to do some interviews soon so we can have someone by the summer. That is going to be the big-ticket item.”

The following personnel items were approved:

  • Mentor Teacher-Kelly Foust – Jessica Maher – $717
  • Paraprofessionals– Jameen Stump – $10/Hour
  • Volunteers- (Choir trip to New York City), Brian Acey, Bonnie Anthon, Keith Murtha, Sara Reichard, and Darlene Matson(Art Trip to Pittsburgh) Taylor Banner and Tricia Shirey.
  • Conferences-Mike Fagley- Asbestos Inspection/Management Planner Refresher – April 2, 2020 – Total Cost $580.00; Liz Keller – IUP Spring Methodology Conference – April 24, 2020 – Blairsville, PA – Total Cost $155.94; and Jill Babington – IUP Spring Methodology Conference – April 24, 2020 – Blairsville, PA – Total Cost $155.94.
  • Field trip: Shakespeare Production: Much Ado About Nothing – March 25, 2020 – 6 am – 6 pm  Cleveland, OH, Brian Love and Mrs. Monica Martin, Estimated number of students 9-30, Cost: (contingent on number attending)  $20- $50, Transportation ( contingent on number attending) Van or Charter Bus, No Cost to district.

Also approved was a contract renewal with Vector Solutions for Safe School Software at a cost of $832.96 plus tax.

February Board Meeting Schedule includes March 3, 2020, Athletics Committee Meeting – 6 p.m. High School Conference Room and Work Session – 7 p.m. LGI at High School and March 10 Personnel Committee Meeting – 6 p.m. High School Conference Room and Board Meeting 7 pm LGI at High School.

School Board members attending included Hugh Henry, Braxton White, Shane Kriebel, Todd Bauer, Dave Estadt, Todd MacBeth, Julie McCormick, Sara Robertson, and Zachary Shekell.

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