|Fort Dorchester High School|
I have been in contact with Fort Dorchester School below is what I have found out thus far:
I went to Fort Dorchester High School yesterday and asked for a copy of the syllabus. I was told by guidance no books were being used besides the bible.
After reading the syllabus, I found out the Bible and it Influence was being used.
The syllabus constantly refers to the class as being historical rather than literature. If it is comparative literature – where are the other religious books?
Homework assignments are only listed on Intounch for those students. The teacher’s webpage does not even acknowledge her teaching the course.
Did a little research on the Bible and it Influence and have ordered a copy. The Bible and it Influence is currently being knocked by the Christian community as a possible anti-Christian material.
Finally got a hold of Michael Casey. He told me a few things that causes me concern
The teacher Laura Knotts husband works at Fort Dorchester High School. My son had him last year. I am told he runs prayer meetings and puts religious sayings on the board. Mr. Casey told me they picked his wife since she has more “polish” than her husband.
The teacher has not taken the course offered by Bible and it Influence makers to avoid the pitfalls of separation of church and state.
This is a pilot program and the curriculum has not been set.
Part of the reason it is not available online is hiding this from the press.
I received a call from Laura Knotts and here is a summary.
They are currently using two curriculums: Bible and it Influence and the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools or NCBCPS.
NCBCPS does not have a textbook (I will address later).
The teacher stated “I want a class of children who have never read the bible so that they may discover what a truly sacred book it is”.
The curriculum is still being set.
I was welcome to discuss further.
I did some research on NCBCPS website and others. The textbook has been pulled and is no longer available. Other websites (bibleinterpt.com) has blasted the book due to errors (earth only 6000 years old and plagiarism).
A copy of the curriculum is not available to the general public nor will the list the schools using it.
I received an email from Laura Knotts on that date.
State Board of Education
I spoke to Kathy Jones at 803.734.0790. Her boss is Ms. Helena Tillar at 803.734.8394
In June, the SC legislature passed bill S726 (see 726 doc) that in essence states that schools would be able to teach the bible and the board of education must set standards. Currently, 10 districts in SC offer either a bible course or early release of students for religious training. I am also including a state budget (S726.pdf) for you to view.
Currently, the State Board of Education (SBOE) has not developed standards or instructional materials. It states that this class must follow under the English elective standards (http://ed.sc.gov/topics/curriculumstds/). Ms. Jones stated further that SBOE role is to develop overall guidelines all schools must follow. They are not responsible for picking the curriculum as this is the function of the District (Dorchester School District Two Administrative Offices 102 Green Wave Blvd. Summerville, SC 29483 (843) 873-2901 Michael Casey http://www.dorchester2.k12.sc.us/education/district/district.php?sectionid=10198 ). The SBOE meets next 9/12/07 and are expecting an update from the group; however, it will probably be that they are working on it. The individual in charge of the committee is Dr. Britt Blackwell from Rock Hill, SC (Dr. J. Britt Blackwell, Circuit 16 - expires 12/31/2010, Next county: Union 2020 Cavendale Drive, Rock Hill, South Carolina 29732 Phone: 803-327-2001 (office); 803-329-0495 (home) ; 803-327-9843 (fax) email@example.com).
The SBOE has advised me that I have every legal right to view the curriculum in written form and that the syllabus is not acceptable since it is just the table of contents of the book. I am also allowed to view any and all materials the school plans to use. I have called and requested an appt. at Ft. Dorchester High School to obtain this information.
On 8/31 I sent via the school contact form the following letter to Mr. Casey:
It was wonderful speaking to you the other day. I have obtained a copy of the Bible and its Influence. I do have some additional questions.
What version of The Bible and its influence is Fort Dorchester School working with?
The syllabus in actuality is the table of contents from the book, I would like to obtain a written copy of the curriculum which will specify how it will be taught, what will be taught, any and all materials that will be used which will include but is not limited to websites, books, video/audio presentations, and speakers with their bio's
Since the state board has not approved standards for the class, I would like to see the districts written standards.
I appreciate this and will of course pay any applicable fees for copying and mailing.
If you have any questions- please feel free to call me.
I have not heard back from him.
On 8/31/07 I sent the email entitled Textbook to the teacher. As of this date, I have been ignored.
Also, I spoke to Courtney Bunao the assistant principle at Fort Dorchester High School, I asked her for a copy of the curriculum, standards for the class, to view the materials. She promised to get back to me.
I sent the following email via Dorchester II School districts contact form:
Can you please advise me on what the procedure is to speak before the school board?
Additionally, I would like to see all of the minutes from all open and closed door sessions regarding the debate and the class: The Bible and Its Influence.
I also sent an email to two members of the school board : It states as follows:Ms. Townsend and Mr. Blake,
I'm a parent of two children that are enrolled in Fort Dorchester High School; and have some concerns as a parent and tax payer about the class “The Bible and Its Influence” approved by the board last month. I've been in contact with both the high school and the district regarding the class and curriculum, and those contacts have left me with more concerns than when I first heard of the approval. Because of the nature of the class and the problems it can cause the district; I hope you'll both consider looking into the matter and make sure the law and rules are being followed.
For starters, I've gotten mixed responses when asking about the class and its curriculum. Some have been open and somewhat helpful, but some have been negative and acted like I had no business even asking questions. I really don't think "under a veil of secrecy" is the best way to run our public schools. But even the helpful responses have left me with the impression the school isn't ready to teach the class, but class has already started.
In discussions with Ms. Knotts and Mr. Casey (who were helpful); I've been told:
That the curriculum has not been set, but class has started.
That the Bible Literacy Project (BLP) textbook "Bible and Its Influence" will be used; but there will be some incorporation of the material from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) textbook “The Bible in History and Literature”.
BLP (http://www.bibleliteracy.org) hosts teacher training on how to teach a legal public high school class, but the teacher hasn't taken any and won't be required to in the future.
Concerning Item 1: That the curriculum has not been set, but class has started -
I called the state board of education and was told they are currently working on standards for this course. However, the district is responsible for the standards and implementing them. When talking to Mr. Casey, it appears that either these standards do not exist or are not available. I received the same answer regarding the curriculum – which it either does not exist or it is not available. Also, the homework for this class is restricted to Intouch rather than the public website that Ms. Knots has.
This concerned me in a number of ways: It seems to me that the standards and curriculum should come before starting the course. Since the state law says "the state board of education must develop and adopt academic standards and appropriate instructional materials"; how can our district be legally teaching a course when the state board hasn't developed the standards and materials?
Also, you approved the class at the August 13th meeting and this year’s school session started on the 20th. This seems a short time to get textbooks purchased, a teacher assigned and trained, and the curriculum set. At a board candidate’s forum last year, some of those that are currently on the board stated they believed in creationism rather than evolution, I even heard one state they felt evolution shouldn't be taught in the schools. The rush, the secrecy, and the prior comments give me the feeling an agenda is being pushed instead of real interest in our children's education. Is that what we should expect for the future?
What finally concerns me is that I discovered this upon a brief look at the materials I have in my possession (Bible and Its Influence edition 1, The Bible in History and Literature, and sources from the internet) for 5 days. I am in no means an expert in the field of theocracy or a constitution expert nor do I pretend to be. How could the learned people from the board - which does include teachers - not spot these and other glaring problems?
Concerning 2: That the Bible Literacy Project (BLP) textbook "Bible and Its Influence" will be used; but there will be some incorporation of the material from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) textbook “The Bible in History and Literature” -
In my research I have found that the BLP program (http://www.bibleliteracy.org) appears to be running into less legal problems than the NCBCPS program (http://www.bibleinschools.net). But neither seems to be without issues. For starters, both seem to be more driven by the agenda of getting the Bible into public schools than concerned about the overall education provided in our schools. Both also appear to be run and backed by well-funded religious groups with the same agenda.
I find it troubling to allow well-funded religious pressure groups to initiate Bible classes in our public schools. Public schools exist to serve the widest possible range of students from many faith perspectives or none. The beautiful thing about living in America is that we all have the freedom to practice or not practice our faith. Can we come to expect that our schools will have a decisive Christian flair?
I've been looking over the BLP textbook “The Bible and Its Influence”; and just in initial glance found some problems:
· The book sometimes blurs the line between academic study and scripture promotion. An example of this is a chapter on Proverbs includes this assertion: “In 1992, the Associated Press evaluated 4000 self-help books” and “concluded that the oldest and best of the how-to’s of happiness is in the oldest self-help book the Bible.”
· A textbook should offer objective study about both the positive and negative uses of the Bible and from my read of it this book does not do so. I do not see incidents such as the Salem Witch trials discussed. Would that not be just as helpful as the study of the 10 Commandments?
· One of the projects in the BLP book is to investigate Natural Law. I am afraid of the ramifications of this study. This comes after the reading of Leviticus which talks about the mosaic laws which does include homosexuality. I am sure you are aware of the recent hate crimes concerning homosexuals in SC. I am also aware there are several openly gay students at Fort. I am concerned how this could cause additional uproar. How will sensitive topics such as abortion and homosexuality be handled in the class? What after reading the 10 commandments a student asks does abortion violate the Thou shall not kill commandment. Will the student be told yes or will the student be told that under our laws that a fetus that can not live outside the womb is a medical procedure? I can come up with numerous examples of this that is in our news everyday. These subjects are bound to come up. I feel it is unfair to both the teacher and the students if a policy is not in place to handle these questions.
· Also, many changes have occurred to the BLP book The Bible and Its Influence in response to criticism that the book is anti-Christian. I am concerned that if BLP is folding to the pressure of the Christian community - again – what is the true agenda? Is it to provide a high education or is to indoctrinate children?
I have also been looking over the NCBCPS textbook and curriculum and have problems with it also:
· This curriculum is currently being litigated in 2 cases I am aware of in TX.
· The curriculum, in actuality, is nothing more than a slanted bible class. There are many blatant examples of what I am speaking about. The most troubling is Unit 6 which is about God’s Law and how states have incorporated it. An example out of the text is comparing the 10 commandments to KY’s law. For the example of the 2nd commandment “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” the publisher uses KY statue KRS 531.010 which prohibits the distribution of pornography. I don’t know about what you were taught in Sunday school but I was told that meant we should not worship any images of false gods. I hardly feel this is an accurate interpretation.
· Also in this same unit as an assignment: “Based upon the class discussion, write one page paper outlining what effect there would be to on our American way of life if the legislatures were to adopt the Mosaic Civil and Moral laws in their entirety”. Based upon Leviticus and the laws in effect at that time – I feel it would be a real detriment to go down this road. Again the book is filled with these types of items.
· Additionally, although NCBCPS disavows a financial connection of Wall Builders, it uses many of the items from Wall Builders. As you are probably aware, Wall Builders has come under some fire about attributing statements to our founding fathers that do not exist.
When I have asked for a copy of the curriculum, I was given the course syllabus. The course syllabus that was passed out to the board and to parents is the table of contents to “The Bible and Its Influence”, this syllabus does not show anything regarding how the class will be taught. How can the board pass a motion based upon the table of contents? What other information was given to assist the board in making this decision? Finally, what other materials (Textbooks and other books, Video/Audio presentations, Handouts, and Speakers) will be used? Who is responsible to find out if these items will conform to the law in this matter?
Concerning 3: BLP (http://www.bibleliteracy.org) hosts teacher training on how to teach a legal public high school class, but the teacher hasn't taken any and won't be required to in the future
My discussions with Ms. Knotts have been helpful and I have no urge to judge a teacher by their religious affiliation and don't expect each class to be under a microscope. But with only about a week passing between approval of the class and school starting; I can't help but ask - what kind of training does Ms. Knotts possess, did the district advertise for the position, how did Ms. Knotts come to be chosen, and why isn't the BLP teacher course being considered? And with the board approving a course without a curriculum; what guarantees do I or any other parent have that Ms. Knotts viewpoint will not be shown?
Besides those three big and in-depth concerns, I also wanted to address what I would call "troubling remarks" in discussions with Ms. Knotts and Mr. Casey:
The first remark was by Mr. Casey. He stated this was a pilot program and he has avoided and would continue to avoid questions from the press. My question to you is why? If there is nothing wrong with this class, why hide from public scrutiny?
The other remark was from Ms. Knotts. Ms Knotts stated to me that it was her hope that a child who had never read the stories of the bible would come away with the knowledge of how “sacred” this book was. While I might agree the bible is sacred, that is my personal opinion. I would hope a teacher would not be expressing that to students.
I hope you can see that these are some important concerns that involve the law, money matters, and equal access for the district.
Concerning the law - Was the board’s approval and starting of a class without a curriculum before the state board has even set standards even legal? Without those standards is our district just begging to become a court case instead of focusing on the education of our children?
Concerning money - I was at a meeting recently where Mr. Stoudenmire gave an in-depth view of the district's budget; and although it wasn't stated; it certainly seems that our funds are stretched thin. With money an issue, how can we afford spending on a class without a curriculum? Also, if all these issues land the district in court, how much will it cost and can we afford it?
Concerning equal access – It states in the new elective course for the Bible and It’s Influence that this class will “Improve(ing) performance in school and preparing students for college-level work”. What other classes are offered at Fort Dorchester High School that will allow my children equal access if I do not allow them to take this one?
Please look into these matters.
I received an email back from Harry Blake it states as follows: Ms. Seufert,
Thanks for your concerns about the Bible Studies in our Schools. I'm sure when something new is introduced there will be and should be questions.
You have very valid points and I thank you for pointing them out. I'm sure that the answers to your questions will be taken seriously and addressed once
we get all the answers. This may take time to answer all of your concerns but I'm sure they are being worked on at this present time.
Again I say Thanks
I received copy of the school board minutes
Courtney Bunao, assistant principle at Fort Dorchester High School has just called me back regarding the questions I placed before her regarding curriculum and standards. She stated the following:
No standards are in place.
This is a pilot program so therefore no curriculum is in place.
No other materials except the BLP The Bible and Its Influence are being used. I explained that both the Kings James Version of the Bible and handouts from NCBCPS The Bible in History and Literature were being used. Ms. Bunao states she is unaware of that.
Ms. Bunao further stated, when asked what other class would assist my son in AP test that “besides the bible, there is no other class that would offer that.”
When asked if I could view any and all materials, Ms. Bunao stated that no other materials are being used despite the fact it is published on their invitation for the class.
I also had an interview with the post and courier Mindy Hagen. According to Mindy, she went into the classroom today and interviewed the teacher, students, and principal.
According to the teacher, she will only be using the BLP book The Bible and Influence. I provided the reporter with a copy of the email from the teacher stating otherwise. I have enclosed a copy for you to update. According to the reporter the teacher is on the state board to write the standards. At present time, they are using the standards for an English Elective. I told the reporter of the conversation with the assistant principal otherwise.
Long story short, looks like the article will appear this weekend. I told the reporter it is my intention to attend every school board meeting and speak out against this. I told her I had not invited others to protest, but I would be writing letters to every organization in the area asking for support – which I will begin to write this weekend. Here is a link to the original article: http://www.charleston.net/news/2007/aug/14/district_board_adopts_bible_course12960/
I can provide anyone one who wants a copy of all the materials and emails backing this up.