SEBRING — A new policy on religious expression in public schools will have a public hearing and be considered for approval today by The School Board of Highlands County.
Legislation from 2018 resulted in Section 1002.206 of the Florida Statutes, known as the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act.”
The Florida Department of Education developed a model policy on religious expression in public schools for the basis of the school district policies.
The School Board of Highlands County used the wording from the Florida Department of Education for its policy, which states, “It is the policy of the School District that the district will not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.”
The proposed policy includes three sections under “Student Expression of Religious Viewpoints:”
• School District will treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner that a school district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint.
• A student may express his or her religious beliefs in coursework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination. A student’s homework and classroom assignments shall be evaluated, regardless of their religious content, based on expected academic standards relating to the course curriculum and requirements.
• A student may not be penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of his or her work if the coursework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments require a student’s viewpoint to be expressed.
The proposed policy includes statements on “Students Engaging in Religious Activities and Expression at School:”
• A student may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that a student may engage in secular activities or expression.
• A student may organize prayer groups, religion clubs, and other religious gatherings before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that a student is permitted to organize secular activities and groups.
The proposed rule addresses “Employees Engaging in Religious Activities and Expression at School:”
• The School District may not prevent school personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students at reasonable times before or after the school day if such activities are voluntary and do not conflict with the responsibilities or assignments of such personnel.
• The School District must comply with the federal requirements in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of religion.
The School Board of Highlands County meets at 5:30 p.m. today in the Garland Boggus Board Room.