AMITE — Because enrollment in “The Bible in History and Literature” classes in Tangipahoa Parish public schools has dwindled, one School Board member says it is time to remind students and teachers alike of the option.
School Board member Sandra Bailey Simmons told Curriculum Committee members Tuesday that the course is taught only at Ponchatoula High School, despite being approved as an elective for any high school in the district.
“I want to refresh it, let everybody know it exists,” Simmons said.
The school district received approval for the course from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in the mid-1990s, committee members confirmed Tuesday night.
The class must be offered as an elective, cannot be required for graduation and cannot impose the doctrine of any particular religious sect, said Danny Williams, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.
In addition, teachers who want to offer the class must take a special training course, Simmons said.
According to a list of course objectives Williams provided, topics covered in the class include literary forms in the Bible as well as people and symbols referred to in literature, art and music; influences of the Bible on history, law, American community life and culture; influences on the world views of the Founding Fathers and human rights; Middle Eastern history, geography, religion and politics; and the importance of religion in world and national history.
As for participation, Williams said, “Just like any elective, it depends on having a teacher able and willing to teach it and students wanting to take it.”
Fifteen students are taking the course this year, down from previous years, Williams said.
Simmons said she called principals to ask why the course was not being offered in their schools and was told that students did not know about the class. Students said their guidance counselors had not told them about the option, Simmons said.
And if no teacher signed up to offer the course, students would not see it listed on their brochures of class options either, Simmons said.
“It’s been so long, teachers may not even know they could teach it, that they could take the training,” she said.
Simmons also suggested fear of litigation might be a factor.
“I think there’s so much fear with the ACLU and the prayer issue that they could be in trouble, and we don’t want that fear to be there,” she said.
Board member Al Link said that, with the state voucher program, the district is sending some of its students to Catholic schools in the parish where they’re praying anyway.
Other reasons for low participation could include the extensive list of required courses students must take to graduate or enter college and large amounts of time already spent in extracurricular activities such as band or sports, Link said.
Williams said the board could wait to see if a similar course will be included in the state’s Course Choice program, which will allow students to choose publicly funded course offerings not otherwise available to them.
A list of Course Choice offerings will be made available in January, Williams said, and the program begins in 2013-14.
In the meantime, the district can explore distance learning opportunities for offering a similar Bible course, Williams said.
Three such courses have been identified already through Brigham Young University Independent Study, Indiana University High School and North Dakota Center for Distance Education, he said.
“We can also make sure it’s in the course catalog and see who all selects it,” he said.