After receiving complaints from parents that their children’s schools were putting themselves in the position of being used as a location to expose their young ones to religion, Schools Superintendent Steve Boynton revoked rental privileges to all non-school related uses of the school buildings targeted by the complaints. One of them was Sam Case Elementary in Newport.
Although it’s not illegal to rent school facilities to non-profit groups after the regular school day, including to religious groups, if the kids are released from regular classes only to be walked down the hall to religious training being conducted by a church renting space at the school, that can be construed, in the minds of the children, and to the community, to be part of the regular offerings of public education. And that violates the constitutional firewall between church and state in the U.S. Constitution.
Then there are issues surrounding the nature of non-education related groups that conduct various activities during school hours. And again, if the district opens itself up to such activities, it cannot discriminate between groups that want to rent space. But there are limits to the activities – for instance – equestrian groups that want to expose children to horses generally would be bussed to a horse ranch rather than bringing horses to the schools, for obvious reasons of general sanitation.
The school district board is expected to take on this well traveled issue at its next school board meeting December 8th.