RESPECT project-Religious Expression Supports Positive Equity-Centered Teaching

By Brad Starnes, Superintendent

Here is some information about the BOE approved RESPECT project.

Why? We care about our students and staff.  It is an extension of our commitment to social/emotional mental health.  Our county has 5 times the national average of suicide rates and according to our most recent Kansas Communities That Care annual survey given to our 6th, 8th, 10th & 12th graders that measures social/emotional mental health; last year we had 12.39 students respond that they’d tried to kill themselves.  Up from 2.97 students in 2021, and is above the state average of 10.31students that’s up from 9.53 students in 2021.  Our students indicate they’re hurting.  Amid all they are facing, we have an opportunity to support student’s religious faith as a learning and coping asset.

Further, there’s empirical evidence that religion has a positive effect on academic achievement and behavior amongst students.  Our school district has a responsibility to do whatever we can to support academic goals, college & career readiness, provide 21st century skills, be culturally relevant and responsive while being legally balanced.  Religion in public schools is endorsed by National School Board Association, American Federation of Teachers, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Education Association Resolution I-21.  Our First Amendment to the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

The RESPECT program is to provide teachers and staff guidance regarding religion at school.  This is done through a 30-minute Professional Development video.  Teachers/staff can affirm student’s faith without endorsing it following the US Department of Education’s Federal Guidance on Religious Expression while protecting our Constitutional First Amendment rights. 

What about the separation of church and state per the Constitutional Establishment Clause?  “Public schools may NOT provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion.  For example, philosophical questions concerning religion, the history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other religious teachings) as literature, and the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries all are permissible public-school subjects.”  Quotes taken from US Dept of Education’s Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools (January 2020)

Kansas State Laws support the no establishment clause, “no sectarian or religious doctrines shall be taught or inculcated in any of the public schools of a city”, but KSA 72-1628 doesn’t “prohibit the reading of the Holy Scriptures”.  Our school district supports and participates daily in KSA 72-5308 Patriotic exercises-“the program of patriotic observation of every school district shall include: (1) A daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America”.  Before Board of Education and district meetings we participate in KSA 72-5308a Periods of silence authorized-“this period shall not be conducted as a religious exercise, but shall be an opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day.”

As a part of the RESPECT project there will be posters displayed within our schools outlining Student’s Constitutional First Amendment rights regarding Religious Expression in Public School.  Through this proven project the hope is to lawfully educate and provide our students & staff information and opportunities to be successful here at school and upon leaving school.