Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Outsourcing Of Alternative School To Christian Institution Violates Establishment Clause

In Kucera v. Jefferson County Board of School Commissioners, (ED TN, July 9, 2013), a Tennessee federal district court held that the Jefferson County (TN) school board violated the Establishment Clause when, for budgetary reasons, it eliminated the county Alternative School and instead contracted with Kingswood School, a Christian institution, to operate the county's program for students who had been suspended or expelled from their regular school.  According to the court:
The average student that attended Kingswood would arrive on campus and see a church within the grounds. She would then see an intake staff member who was also an ordained minister. After intake, the student would attend secular classes, but would take home report cards branded with Christian language and symbols.... [S]he would need to have her parents routinely sign and return Family Feedback Forms that also contained bible verses. If she visited Kingswood's  website, she would be greeted by the phrases "Christian environment" and "Christian education" among others. Benefactors would receive fundraising correspondence that contained Christian references and iconography, and assemblies would be held in the campus church.
... [T]he facts plainly establish that Kingswood is a religious institution-- a fine institution-- but an institution that should have never sought to operate a public alternative school as part of its ministry....The appearance of governmental endorsement of the Christian faith is too pronounced and non-believers, or students of a different faith, would likely feel divorced from Kingswood, a well-intentioned, but overtly-Christian school.
The principal and a teacher who lost their jobs when the county alternative school closed were awarded damages equal to their lost wages for the year the alternative school closed, plus attorneys fees. The school board was also permanently enjoined from contracting with Kingswood or another religious entity for the operation of its alternative school. (See prior related posting.)