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District responds to letter: Prayers occurred a year ago

One of the coaches named no longer works for Hall County schools

POSTED: August 27, 2014 12:45 a.m.

Hall County Schools’ response to a letter from a humanist group that accused coaches at Chestatee High School of illegally leading students in prayer during football games and practices says the alleged offenses happened “almost a year ago.”

The response also said one of the coaches implicated in the letter is no longer with the district.

The original letter alleging inappropriate religious practices was sent to the district earlier this month by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American  Humanist Association. The center said it sent the letter after an anonymous complaint from a concerned resident.

Monica Miller, an attorney with the center, said she could not comment at this time but that a response is forthcoming.

Will Schofield, Hall schools superintendent, said  he participated in writing the response, which was sent on behalf of the district by Phillip L. Hartley, an attorney with the law firm Harben, Hartley &  Hawkins.

When asked for comment, Hartley said, “I think the letter pretty much speaks for itself.”

The response stated, “Mr. Schofield is committed to working with all school administrators in Hall County to see that the rights of all students, staff and citizens are protected under both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

It said Schofield “appreciates being informed of concerns so that they can be addressed,” and that he is “always willing to listen and respond to concerns from students and parents, especially if he is given notice of the concern and an opportunity to address it before the press is notified.”

Schofield said at a Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce meeting that the humanist center informed the media of its letter before it was reviewed by the school district.

At the meeting, Schofield said he agrees that people should not be coerced into prayer by authority figures, saying it was a founding principle of the nation.

“We heard that coaches were praying with students. They probably were,” he said, and added, “When we hear about (similar situations), we put our arm around them and say, ‘Guys, that’s crossing the line.’”

However, Schofield said he was disappointed that the concerned resident who contacted the humanist association did not contact the school district first.

“Questions of the heart ... ought to be handled at the local level,” he said.

Schofield said, “People are misinterpreting the law on both ends.”

He said faculty should not lead students in prayer, but students have “almost unlimited rights” to express religious views, “as long as they do not disrupt the school, and as long as they’re not disrespecting others.”

In a phone interview, Schofield agreed with Hartley that the letter speaks for itself.

“I think it says the district is well-aware of what the law said, and we are going to do, to continue to do, what’s within the law,” he said.


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