State still working on Bible literacy guidelines

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courtesy of Kentucky Press News Service

The Kentucky Department of Education is still developing standards for Bible literacy courses taught in Kentucky schools which meet the guidelines set last year by the state’s General Assembly as well as meeting constitutional standards.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky last week sent the department a letter raising “serious concerns” about how the courses are being taught in public schools statewide. The letter prompted the department to remind schools to ensure their curriculums meet those guidelines until it issues its own standards.

Rebecca Blessing, the department’s communications director, responded to the letter Wednesday.

“In accordance with the process outlined in Senate Bill 1 of 2017, the Kentucky Department of Education is working to develop standards that fulfill the legislative directive in (House Bill) 128 and comply with applicable constitutional law,” she said.

“Until these standards are finalized and further guidance is provided by the department, it is up to each public school district in Kentucky to ensure the curriculum used in any classes allowed under HB 128 abides with the letter of the law and the tenets established by constitutional law.”

McCracken County High School was among the schools cited by the ACLU-KY.

The letter called on KDE to bring the courses within constitutional standards. McCracken County School District Superintendent Brian Harper said the high school is following existing KDE guidelines.

“We are teaching a Bible literacy class at McCracken County High School according to the Kentucky Department of Education,” said Harper. “The purpose of the course is to focus on the historical impact and literature from the Old Testament and New Testament and to teach students knowledge of biblical content and how that has an impact on society and culture.

“From what I’m seeing from lesson plans and from the course syllabus, that’s what we’re doing. I know the Department of Education this fall sent out to all school districts that they’re seeking comments on drafting literacy standards, and we will be glad to review those - once those standards are developed - to make any changes that we need to with our course. For now, we think we’re following the guidelines given to us to teach the course.”

The classes were approved by the state legislature March 30 last year and signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin on April 11. However, schools find themselves walking a fine line between teaching about the Bible and the course’s constitutionality.

ACLU-KY Executive Director Michael Aldridge said in a news release that his organization warned legislators of the potential constitutional problems that such a course would bring.

“Our investigation now vividly illustrates the myriad of problems that can arise in our classrooms when they operate without proper guidance and training,” he said. “Now, we look to the KDE to promulgate academic standards in this arena that can pass constitutional muster.”

The ACLU letter to KDE concluded with a threat of legal action, should the courses be continued in an unconstitutional manner.

“We urge you to put in place mechanisms for monitoring these courses as they are implemented to ensure they do not run afoul of the students’ and parents’ constitutional rights,” it reads. “Otherwise, schools will likely face costly and drawn-out litigation, among other consequences.”