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Aug
31
2015

Shock and outrage would be putting it mildly. This is how the turmoil of last week unfolded:

Background: My daughter P. has been in a private school for 3 years from Pre-K through Kindergarten (we will call this School A. We were not happy with the either the depth or breadth of the curriculum going forward, and so last spring we hunted for a new school. Public school was not an option, as the class size in our neighborhood school is 36:1 (no, that is not a typo), and due to the sparsity of teacher attention during school hours, many parents are forced to supplement at home. We homeschool our son, so we don’t have the time to re-teach our daughter concepts she should be mastering during school hours. After an exhaustive search, and many hours spent reviewing school textbooks and listening to recommendations, we decide on School B.

P. is not thrilled about School B, but after spending a few days there this summer, and understanding she gets to have more science, writing, and geography, we convince her it is a good choice.

Last week, School B has an orientation week, at which new students spend the mornings learning school routines and warming up for the academic year. In the car home one day, P. says, “Mommy, is [School B] a Christian school?” No, I say, we would not send you to a Christian school. “They had us do a church thing today.” “What?” I say. “Yeah, we had to go like this [she shows me hands folded on desk with heads bowed] and we had to say something like they do in church.” I dismissed it, telling her that it was probably just a general thank you.

Friday rolls around – the end of orientation – and the teacher sends a mass email telling the parents the week went well, students are great and worked hard, blah, blah, blah, and that they all had memorized their morning prayer and snack prayer.

WHAT!

I politely emailed the teacher, thanked her for the week, and asked for the text of the “prayers” they had to recite. And so we have:

Morning prayer: “God in heaven, to thee we pray, asking Thy help, day by day. In all we say, in all we do, make us kind and generous too. Make us eager in our work today, make us joyous in our play. Help us always, follow Thy rules, God in heaven, bless our school. Amen.”

Snack/lunch prayer: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands, we all our fed, give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.”

Life in our house comes to a stop as there is a flurry of emails, phone calls, and meetings. School B’s director maintains that they are a “non-sectarian” school. My husband and I are irate that they require kids to recite what we believe to be a Christian prayer twice daily WITHOUT INFORMING PARENTS AND WITHOUT OUR CONSENT.

Our 9-year-old son treats this as The Event of The Decade – “Did you hear? My sister had to say a Christian prayer in her new school!”

That’s right: without our consent. The issue that the school requires a twice-daily prayer is not mentioned anywhere in the school’s literature: not in the Parent Handbook, not in the schedule, not on their website, not during initial visit and assessment/interview. Nowhere.

Apparently, they thought the issue of school prayer was a trivial matter that parents didn’t need to know about – notwithstanding the fact that the US Supreme Court has issued many decisions on this very topic. Yes, they are a private school, but for them to be so culturally myopic to not disclose this practice to parents is deeply offensive and disrespectful.

My daughter confirmed that she felt uncomfortable when they talked about “their God.” School B said she can remain silent. But trust has been broken: if they didn’t think school prayer was material enough to inform the parents about…it’s a slippery slope. And if a student asks about the meaning of the prayer – is the teacher going to define “God” for them?

I respect all faiths and teach my kids to do the same, but holding yourself out to be a secular (er, “non-sectarian” – but they are not that either) school, but secretly providing religious instruction to my child without my consent is not acceptable.

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