Superintendent addresses concerns over religious items in schools 

Chris Plants addresses board members Monday.

Webster Parish school personnel, including teachers, are not prohibited from keeping a Bible on their desk or wearing religious themed jewelry at school, nor are students and staff prohibited from praying while at school, Superintendent of Schools Johnny Rowland said Monday.

Rowland said he wanted to clarify what he called “a misunderstanding or miscommunication” about the subject of religious materials and prayer while a room packed with visitors for the board’s monthly meeting listened.

Rowland’s comments came after Chris Plants, an organizer of the Webster Parish chapter of Men of Courage, spoke to the board concerning federal school regulations he considered against the best interests of students and principles of faith.

“When the government tells you to do something that God doesn’t want you to do, you have to step up and do what God tells you to do,” Plants said. Later he added, “The first amendment gives us the right to religion. If you violate the court order you will be persecuted…that’s against God. Go with God. You have to take what God tells you to take.”

Plants gave board members examples of persons in the Bible who stood up to governing authority rather than disobey God’s laws if the two were in conflict. That, he said, was keeping the commandment to “…love our God with all our heart, with all our mind and all our soul.”

Days before Monday’s meeting, Plants had met with Rowland, school board President Fred Evans and Assistant Superintendent Kevin Washington to talk about concerns after some teachers had told him they were afraid of losing their jobs over issues of Bibles on desks.

According to Plants, he had been contacted by teachers concerned who had passed on their concerns about potentially losing their jobs. “I was just telling you what they communicated to me,” he told Rowland. “I don’t know where they got (the information).” 

“I did some checking, and I told (Plants) I’d never fire anyone for having a Bible on their desk,” Rowland said during the meeting. “We’ve probably not communicated specifics as well as we need to.”

“They can indeed have Bibles on their desk as long as they have other items that teachers would have on their desks. They can wear religious jewelry…teachers and students can pray at school,” he added.

Rowland said following a suit against the school system by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because of religion issues, attendance by students has increased at Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meetings and prayer sessions called “Meeting at the Pole.”

“We’ve actually had more participation after the suit than before,” he said.” Our students know their rights, our employees are learning their rights. We want to assure you…we need to be unified.”

During Monday’s meeting, board members also:

• Approved Option 1 for the 2023 Pelican HRA1000 and MedPlus GAP coverage.

• Gave approval of the Louisiana Compliance Questionnaire for FY 2021-2022.

• Approved a number of expenditures from district funds including $12,049 for video management server for the school resource officer at Lakeside Jr/Sr. High and Central Elementary; and, $128,073 to upgrade all security cameras at Phillips Elementary School.

• Also, $18,074 for the purchase of a video management server for the SRO at Phillips Elementary, Jones Elementary and Richardson Elementary; and, $6,024 to purchase video management server for the school resource officer at North Webster Lower Elementary.

• Also, $18,074 to purchase video management system for school resource officer at Browning Elementary, Brown Upper Elementary and North Webster High School; $6,024 to purchase video management server for school resource officer at North Webster Upper Elementary and Doyline High School.

Scott Walker, representing Taylor and Sons, recognizes Webster Parish school system employee of the month for October, Jessica Lewis, special education teacher at Doyline High School.