Read the petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/petition-to-bulloch-county-board-of-education
Reacting to a group of teachers and community members worried that religious freedoms are being stripped from the classroom, the Bulloch County Board of Education held an impromptu meeting Monday. Click here to read the story.
BROOKLET — Despite a national news report’s claims, Brooklet Elementary is not denying Christmas to anyone — students or teachers — school officials said Tuesday.
The story, reported on Fox News Radio, prompted a number of phone calls, emails and posts and messages on Facebook. The calls were so many, and in some cases so hostile, they shook up some Brooklet Elementary staff members and disrupted the school day, officials said.
The controversy comes on the heels of Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson issuing a statement clarifying that while the district supports the rights of employees to express their beliefs and concerns about freedom of religious expression, that the system also must follow constitutional and case law. He issued the statement after calling a special meeting Monday with the Board of Education to receive input from board members.
“It seems that there is almost an external attempt to spread misinformation and terrorize the school system,” said Wilson, who was visibly shaken Tuesday afternoon by the barrage of phone calls and social media postings portraying Brooklet Elementary in a negative light. “And now it’s gotten down to an up-close-and-personal level here at Brooklet Elementary School. There is very good work being done in the school system and right here at Brooklet Elementary.”
Wilson said the targeting of Brooklet Elementary is unwarranted and, as a member of the community who has had two children attend the school, he takes the attacks personally.
“I’d say it’s devastating, it truly is,” he said. “This is not what I would call the forces of good being harnessed and put in the right direction. This is where we need to pull together and do the right things together.”
Faculty board moved
School Principal Marlin Baker told reporters during an impromptu news conference Tuesday that Brooklet has had a tradition during the last few years of teachers placing Christmas cards for each other on a bulletin board in a hallway.
“Christmas is alive and well at Brooklet Elementary. There have been no student Christmas cards of any type removed from our walls or doors in the building,” Baker said. “We did move a faculty exchange poster. I had a faculty member who came to me, recently, with a privacy issue. And, in order to respect her privacy and still allow her to participate in this activity, we moved the board into the faculty workroom. This is the place where everyone signs in every day, so all the faculty can enjoy these cards sent to each other.”
The board was moved during Thanksgiving break last week, so it was in the workroom when teachers returned Monday.
The Fox News Radio story quoted Robb Kicklighter, whose wife is a third-grade teacher at Brooklet Elementary. Robb Kicklighter’s phone number is not listed in the telephone book, and he did not immediately respond to a private message left for him from the Statesboro Herald on his Facebook page.
Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes wrote, with attribution to Kicklighter that “many teachers are disgruntled by the school’s decision to confiscate the Christmas cards.”
“They took the cards so the kids can’t see them,” Kicklighter told Starnes. “Some of the cards had the word ‘Christmas’ and some had Nativity scenes.”
Kicklighter also called the move “an attack on Christianity,” according to Starnes.
In a news release issued Tuesday afternoon, the school system said Starnes did not contact district officials.
After the story went viral and led to the flood of phone calls, Baker called a faculty meeting Tuesday afternoon and informed all teachers of why the teacher Christmas card board was moved.
Baker said the many calls “caused a disruption to our day.”
“I can tell you that this is a fantastic staff we have here. Our faculty and staff are amazing, we have very motivated students and we have supportive parents. And something like this just distracts from the good work we’re trying to do here.”
Becky Petkewich, a fifth-grade language arts teacher at Brooklet Elementary, said she was “devastated” when she heard about the national report and the negative attention it brought to the school. She added that in her 10 years at the school, she had never experienced something like this.
She said she has heard Brooklet being called a “Scrooge” for allegedly taking down Christmas cards.
“It’s not the voice of the whole school,” Petkewich said of the misinformation. “It’s the voice of a few. I don’t know exactly where it started. I know there’s a lot going on in the community now with religion and different rights … and I know this is a sensitive subject. And I think a lot of people will just take and grab hold of what they can. And unfortunately, they’ve taken this and they’ve twisted it.”
Religious expression petition
Petkewich was referring to a petition that has circulated online by a recently formed Facebook group, called Bulloch County Citizens for Religious Liberties, expressing concerns that the school system has directed teachers to remove religious items from their classrooms and desks.
Wilson said during a called school board meeting Monday that he merely reminded principals of what constitutional and case law says public schools can and cannot do where religious expression is concerned, and that a misunderstanding of that reminder caused concern.
He issued that reminder after the school system received a complaint from Americans United for Separation of Church and State about one or more school employees participating in a student-led prayer after a high school football game.
Student-led prayer at public schools is allowed under constitutional and case law, but courts have generally ruled that school employees cannot lead the prayer or actively participate.
Members of the group plan to attend the regularly scheduled school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the William James Education Complex, 150 Williams Road, to voice their opinions and present the petition to the board.
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.