A week after a student-led prayer resulted in more than 50 Lumpkin County High School students skipping classes, the system’s superintendent said no action will be taken other than working to educate teachers and students about the law pertaining to prayer in school.
At the start of the school day on May 1, a student approached a coach in the school’s gym, and the two prayed together. More students, several of them athletes involved in the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter, and a few teachers joined in the prayer. Through text messages and word of mouth, the group eventually grew to some 50 students and lasted for three to four hours into the school day.
Lumpkin County School System Superintendent Dewey Moye said the system “certainly supports prayer” and encourages children to pray quietly at their desks if they want to.
“But they have to be in class on time and be there when they’re supposed to be,” Moye said. “They can’t be out of class unauthorized and that is an issue that came out of this. We will make sure from this point forward that every specific point of the law will be implemented and followed.”
Moye said he’s chosen not to discipline any of the students or teachers involved with the prayer but rather to educate them on the Equal
Access Act, a law passed in 1984 that permits students who wish to hold a student-led meeting for religious, political or philosophical purposes to do so outside of class time. School officials are allowed to be present at religious meetings but only in a nonparticipating capacity.
Moye said he’s had six separate visits with the school’s principal, Rick Connor, since the event to make sure the faculty understand what is expected of them. In addition to face-to-face meetings, the school is providing teachers and coaches with written instruction as to how to follow the rule if a similar situation arises.
“I went to the high school and made sure that all the teachers understood it, all the administrators and coaches,” Moye said. “And I feel like a lot of them were not fully aware of the intent of the law. We’ve made sure from this point forward that everyone understands it.”
Moye said students, too, are being informed about the rule and their role in seeing that it is followed.
“From this point forward I expect them to be in class when they’re supposed to be and where they’re supposed to be,” Moye said. “If they’re out of class, it’s approved by a teacher and an administrator.”
He said any future violations at the school will have consequences.
Moye said, though, that while he’s heard some complaints from parents and community members about the prayer, “a lot of people are very much in favor of it.”
A few community businesses have anonymously donated money to PR Threadworks, formerly known as the Embroidery Shop, in Dahlonega to create T-shirts for the students as a show of support for the prayer.
The shirts incorporate the school’s logo and say “LC Strong,” with the “T” looking like a cross.
Andrea Lee, owner of PR Threadworks, said people have been calling “left and right” wanting the shirts.
“This was all demand,” Lee said. “We started getting phone calls to make the shirts and we said ‘Sure, we’d be happy to,’ and it’s turned into a whole life of its own.”
The Atlanta chapter of the ACLU is investigating the school, but Moye said he has not been notified of any investigation as of Tuesday.
Chad Brock, a staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Georgia, wrote in an email to The Times that it will avoid commenting on any specific allegations until the investigation is complete.
However Brock outlined the organization’s view on religious activities in public schools.
“Students absolutely have the right to conduct religious activities at school, including group prayer, as long as those activities are student-initiated, student-led and not disruptive to the school day,” Brock wrote. “The problem arises when school administrators and teachers lead, encourage or facilitate these religious activities. It is a violation of the First Amendment for government officials, including school personnel, to promote a particular religious view while acting in their official capacity. The Constitution demands that school officials refrain from advancing a particular religion, and the Constitution protects our children from coercion, indoctrination and alienation while they are at school. Children of all faiths should feel welcome in our schools.”