A religious group that wants to offer off-campus teaching to Rock Hill children during school hours is hoping to reach out to those not already exposed to church.
“We want to offer biblical instruction to kids who would never have that opportunity otherwise,” said the Rev. Bill Simpson, pastor of Manchester Creek Community Church in Rock Hill.
Simpson is leading a coalition of 18 churches under the nonprofit School Ministries of Rock Hill Inc. The group, affiliated with the national School Ministries Inc., wants to provide released-time Bible education to Rock Hill middle school students during the school day, he said.
Simpson said a similar program is offered to students in 11 other school districts in South Carolina, including the York and Clover districts.
The Rock Hill school board gave initial approval in a 4-3 vote Monday to a policy that would allow recognized religious groups to apply to the district for permission to offer instruction during an elective class period one day a week.
Parents would have to give permission for their children to enroll and the school absence would be excused. Absences would not be allowed during core academic classes, such as English, math, science and social studies, under the proposal.
Board members Mildred Douglas, Ann Reid and Jane Sharp voted against the proposal, which will go to the board for one more vote before the approval is final.
Douglas questioned why such instruction could not be offered after school or on weekends, and Reid said she did not believe the school day should be disrupted.
Bud Dark, a Rock Hill businessman and chairman of the School Ministries of Rock Hill Inc. board, said the program would be open to all children. But he said the group especially wants to reach those whose families have never exposed them to church.
“A child who has never walked in a church, whose family has never guided him to Christ, can have a chance to walk in and find out what it’s about,” Dark said.
Dark said the movement began with a small group at Covenant Presbyterian Church three years ago. From that group, he said, they elected a board to represent eight of the 18 churches that have signed on.
Simpson said the group represents Rock Hill churches of all sizes and denominations, including Baptist, Presbyterian, and United Methodist. The churches would offer financial support, volunteers to lead classes and space for the program to be held, he said.
He said the program would be offered at the church closest to the students’ school to minimize travel time. He said leaders would work with Rock Hill schools to determine the details of how best to launch such a program.
Simpson said leaders would like to begin the program with sixth-grade students, “when the children are able to begin to shape their own moral compass.”
He said they would promote the program “with social media, door-to-door, whatever we need to do to make that happen.” He said in other districts, interest in the program tends to grow from students’ word of mouth.
He said the program is hands-on and interactive.
“We don’t want to teach children the Bible, we want to teach children how to live out the Bible, and there is a tremendous difference,” he said. “One is to make a good grade on a test. Another is to be a good person in life.”
Superintendent Kelly Pew told school board members that if the policy is approved, the district will need to grant permission to any religious group that follows the policy procedures.
Under the proposed policy, the religious group would be responsible for transportation, and would be liable for students when they are off school property.
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077