Rock Hill schools mull policy for off-campus religious instruction

School district leaders are considering a policy that would allow students to leave their Rock Hill school with an excused absence for religious instruction.

Superintendent Kelly Pew, who proposed the policy to school board members this week, said it would allow students to leave the school campus with an excused absence for religious instruction during an elective class period one day a week.

Under the proposal, which the school board has not voted on, parents would have to agree to allow their child to participate, Pew said.

She said a recognized religious organization would have to apply to the district to take the students off campus for instruction. Absences would not be allowed during core classes, she said, which include English, social studies, math and science.

“Regardless of what the religious group is, if we allow this for one group, then we would have to allow it for all groups,” Pew told board members.

Pew said one religious organization has indicated it is ready to apply to offer the instruction for middle school students if the board approves the policy.

Board member Mildred Douglas asked why such instruction couldn’t be offered outside of school hours. “I can’t understand why they can’t do it after school or on Saturday,” she said.

But board member Walter Brown, who talked with one group that is interested in offering such instruction, said he believes the district should allow it.

“It would be an option for parents who are interested in it,” Brown said.

Board member Jim Vining said the board should consider the policy. However, Vining asked for a more detailed definition of what would constitute “a formally recognized religious organization or group.”

Pew said other districts, including some in York County, have such policies. She said the proposal is based on policies used by other districts.

Pew said other York County school leaders told her they have had few problems with agreements that allow students to leave campus for religious instruction.

She noted that when students are removed from campus under such agreements, the school district is not liable for their care or responsible for behavior or discipline.

Pew also said such groups would need to work with the school district’s class schedule to arrange such instruction and return students to school in time for their next class.

Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077