By Lisa Singleton-Rickman
July 26, 2015
Students’ right to express their religious beliefs always has been afforded in local school districts, but this year schools are upgrading their policies to reflect mandates from the Alabama Legislature.
Florence upgraded its policy recently, but Superintendent Janet Womack said the change to the policy is minimal.
“We’ve always permitted religious freedom to our students, but we just tweaked the existing policy to further develop what was a very general statement,” Womack said. “It isn’t much of a change for us because we already value and respect diversity in our student body, and we operate as such.”
All Alabama school systems are required to have a policy, reflective of the Legislature’s request. The policy, by law, must be adopted by boards of education by Sept. 1.
In Florence, the policy will be adopted this month.
It states there will be no discrimination against students or parents on the basis of their religious viewpoint. Students will be allowed to express beliefs about religion in homework, artwork and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on their religious content.
It further states students may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during and after the school day in the same manner, and to the same extent, that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression.
Students may wear clothing, accessories and jewellery displaying religious messages or symbols, and the board will not take actions which establish a religion or prohibit the free exercise of a particular religion.
Muscle Shoals Superintendent Brian Lindsey said religious expression among students is most often displayed through clothing and jewellery.
“We’ve never had any issues in those areas,” he said.
In Lauderdale County, Superintendent Jennifer Gray said the upgraded policy won’t affect the way her schools operate.
“We just took the law and put it in our policy manual,” she said. “It’s essentially what we’ve always done and abided by.”