Yosemite Unified School District is trying to reach a compromise, and avoid potential legal conflicts, between a Christian group and those concerned with an alleged discriminatory event the group held at Rivergold Elementary School in Coarsegold.
These issues will be discussed at the YUSD board meeting 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 14, inside the Coarsegold Elementary School cafeteria.
On Nov. 12, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) had its first “Huddle,” or a form of on-campus student-led ministry, at Rivergold during lunch inside a teacher’s classroom.
FCA has clubs or “Huddles” at Yosemite, Minarets, and Sierra high schools, along with numerous other campuses across the world. The Yosemite FCA Club held a “Fields of Faith” event with music, speakers, and student testimonies in October, as reported by the Sierra Star ( click here for story).
Some parents were concerned, and one filed a formal complaint, that students as young as 12 were enticed to attend the Nov. 12 meeting through free pizza and soda, and some who didn’t attend were later ostracized and harassed as “outsiders” by their classmates in an act of discrimination.
Other concerns included the issue of any religious influence during school hours, particularly as one teacher allowed some students to promote the “Huddle” during class, and how FCA leaders organized and led the meeting instead of it being ran by students as mandated by the federal Equal Access Act.
FCA instead contended the “Huddle” was asked for by students, the pizza and soda were donated by a parent, not meant as some kind of bribery, and though FCA officials attended the meeting, it’s similar to that of other groups like Yosemite high’s Leos Club, where students often invite community speakers and leaders to attend.
FCA officials also said the “Huddle” followed the Equal Access Act, the group allows students of Christian belief an opportunity to gather with others and build their shared faith, and by no means should, or will, that faith be forced on others who don’t attend.
The Rivergold FCA “Huddle” was suspended as the school district looked into the situation.
As a form of compromise, YUSD assistant superintendent Leonard Kahn said the school board on Monday will consider adapting a policy to limit visits by “non-school persons” for any student group, not just FCA, to a certain number of visits a year.
He said that will ensure students are following the Equal Access Act, and any concerns over a student group being controlled by outside figures should be assuaged.
The previous policy allowed for visits by “non-school persons” as long as they weren’t on a “regular” basis, which some considered a vague definition that could likely be misused.
A “non-school person” means someone not employed with the school they attend.
At the 7th and 8th grade level, the proposed policy would allow for six visits each year, taken in aggregate. That means if one person visits six times, or six people visit one time each, that would use the entirety of the year.
For high school, the policy would allow for 18 such visits.
“With this language we’re comfortable it will satisfy all groups,” Kahn said, “whether its one side that wants these visits totally open or the other wants it totally closed off. I’m very, very comfortable with the proposed language that we’ve found a place where the district’s goal is to not be involved with a lawsuit and all issues are met.”
An FCA official, as well as the parent that filed the complaint, both said they don’t support the proposed policy, and that may leave YUSD in a difficult position.