School Board Approves Controversial Policy
Johnston County school board members on Tuesday deliberated for over an hour before voting 5 to 2 to approve a controversial policy, which limits non-school related materials on school grounds.
School Board Chairman Larry Strickland and Board Member Donna White voted against it.
Superintendent Ed Croom (pictured right) said, for years, Johnston County Schools has allowed organizations like Gideons International to visit campuses and distribute New Testaments and other religious literature.
But Croom said that last year a couple of groups approached him with material, which he deemed inappropriate for students.
"It was stuff I didn't want my son to see, to have the opportunity to see," Croom said.
Croom said an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union told him that if the school system allows one group, such as the Gideons on its campuses, then it must allow all groups.
"I know this doesn't bode well in the Bible Belt and Johnston County," Croom said. "But we can't differentiate any one group over another."
School Board Attorney Jimmy Lawrence (pictured left) agreed. He and Deputy Superintendent Ross Renfrow fielded questions from school board members.
In May, Lawrence said the school board received a letter co-signed by representatives of the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"We had the ACLU wanting to know where we were regarding this policy," Lawrence said.
School Board member Keith Branch said that, in making this decision, they had Johnston County students' best interest at heart.
"If we knowingly open ourselves up to litigation, we're not acting in the best interests of Johnston County Schools," Branch said.
School Board Member Butler Hall said this issue had been very disturbing to him because of his religious beliefs.
"I've spent a great of time struggling with this policy," Hall said. But he said school officials had received requests to distribute literature, which he described as "blasphemous."
White differed with her colleagues. She said, "Johnston County is a faith-based community and we need to take risks for what's right.”
"This policy will have a domino effect on our schools," White said. "Whatever the outcome of this vote, I won't be part of this domino effect."
School Board Member Peggy Smith said she and her colleagues took an oath to defend the Constitution.
"We can't promote religion. We have a Christian society but its’ churches and parents who have the responsibility to carry on the fight," Smith said.
Will Johnston County Make Exceptions?
Before Johnston County school board members adopted a policy limiting the display of non-school related materials, they briefly discussed regulations, which allow annual after school events in which different community groups, including religious groups, can distribute literature on high school campuses.
School Board Attorney Jimmy Lawrence said Buncombe County has adopted a similar regulation.
The Buncombe County regulation allows high schools to sponsor "community information events" to provide organizations an opportunity to share informational material about the services they provide.
Buncombe County prohibits groups from distributing “vulgar, indecent or obscene” material, materials that contain personal attacks, encourage students to commit illegal acts “or acts that violate school rules,” or promote “unhealthy or illegal activities by children, such as tobacco or alcohol use."