Bible class scrutiny continues
By Traci Chapman
Mustang Public Schools’ choice of a Green Scholars Initiative Bible history class may be what’s generating so much interest in the proposal, Superintendent Sean McDaniel says.
McDaniel spoke about the issue during Monday’s regular school board meeting. The proposed class has generated national media coverage and interest from people far beyond the school district’s borders, McDaniel said.
The course would be offered at Mustang High School as an elective, which means students would only take it if they chose to do so. Officials said earlier this year about 170 students expressed interest in the course in their 2014-2015 registration materials.
Interest has moved beyond individuals and media outlets as well, he said. Representatives with American Civil Liberties Union and Freedom from Religion have also expressed concerns about the constitutionality of the possible curriculum. Those concerns stemmed from open records requests that allowed the dissemination of an early draft of the course curriculum, the superintendent said.
“There have been 12-plus drafts so far, by the time we’re finished it will probably be in the neighborhood of 20 revisions,” McDaniel said.
Green Scholars Initiative, an organization founded by Steve Green, president and chief executive officer of Hobby Lobby, proposed the course and is developing the potential curriculum, McDaniel said. If the course actually makes it to students, it will be the first GSI Bible course – and therein lies the problem, the superintendent said.
“There are 21 other schools in the state that offer the exact same curriculum but not through Green Scholars,” he said.
Board member Jeff Landrith questioned the wisdom of moving forward with the GSI curriculum, rather than that used by those other schools, as well as hundreds of other schools across the country. Those schools did not face opposition similar to that encountered by Mustang, officials said.
“Yes, we have already looked at it (the other curriculum),” McDaniel said. “We’re desperate for appealing electives for our kids, and the digital component of this – there’s no comparison.”
GSI’s course includes virtual tours and access to more than 40,000 historical Biblical resources, McDaniel said. That made the district’s pursuit of the curriculum – at least to a point – worth it, he said.
Courses very rarely, if ever, get the kind of scrutiny given the proposed Bible history class, the superintendent said. The amount of time spent by district staff and administration, as well as board members, has led some in the media to question meetings held to review curriculum and charges the district may have violated the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act.
McDaniel denied those charges, saying board members were invited to Green’s office to review updated components of the proposed curriculum. There was no quorum and groups were not “split” to avoid the necessity of a public meeting, he said.
Public entities must post and hold public meetings anytime there is a quorum – in Mustang Public Schools’ case, at least three of the five members – meeting on district business. Members cannot make decisions outside public purview under state laws.
While district officials knew the class could be controversial, they did not expect this level of interest, they said. Many of the questions have come from outside the district, McDaniel said.
“I’ve gotten maybe 20-25-30 emails (from local sources),” McDaniel said. “What I’m most concerned about is what our community thinks.”
While McDaniel said he anticipated a final curriculum draft sometime this month, rumors of possible legal action and continuing controversy had some board members concerned. Administrators have discussed the matter with a “not-for-profit legal firm” and its insurance group, although nothing has transpired in legal venues, McDaniel said.
“I don’t think we’re in the business of getting into legal fights over something like this,” Landrith said.
For now, officials said they would take a wait and see posture, until they could have a chance to review the final proposed GSI curriculum. McDaniel said he wanted to make sure before residents knew district officials believed in the course material and the opportunity potentially offered to students.
“This is a district course, this is not a Hobby Lobby course, it’s not a GSI course,” he said. “We continue to be really excited about the opportunity.”