Education groups mum on Bible-in-school bill

Education groups aren’t opposing a Bible-in-schools bill — but they don’t see the need for it, either.

They say school administrators already allow teachers to use the Bible as a reference work.

Echeverria
Karen Echeverria, Idaho School Boards Association

“We have not heard any district or charter school ask questions about whether, or how, they could use the Bible in schools,” Idaho School Boards Association executive director Karen Echeverria told Idaho Education News this week.

Supporters have based their argument for Senate Bill 1342 on confusion — and a resulting chilling effect. Since teachers aren’t sure about what they’re allowed to do, they just decide to steer clear of the Bible.

But if there is confusion in the classroom, it’s news to Echeverria and fellow education stakeholders.

“I have not heard from one member on using the Bible in the classroom,” said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. “It is allowed already when used as literature or in religion comparison classes.”

“No (Idaho Education Association) members have expressed confusion about the use of the Bible or any other religious text as a reference material,” said Penni Cyr, president of the statewide teachers’ union.

On most Statehouse K-12 issues, the ISBA, IASA and IEA play a prominent role — and frequently, the three stakeholder groups are in agreement. In a way, that’s the case with SB 1342. None of the groups have taken a position on the bill, either for it or against it.

When SB 1342 came up for a hearing Friday — in the Senate State Affairs Committee, not the Senate Education Committee — the testimony and debate focused on the constitutional issues, not classroom practice.

Education stakeholder groups did not testify. Supporters conceded teachers could use the Bible in class, but insisted SB 1342 was still urgently needed.

“The strong moral fiber of this great state may be hanging in the balance,” said Bobbie Post, a teacher at the Ambrose School, a Meridian Christian school.

Ultimately, the committee sent SB 1342 to the Senate floor, where it is likely to be amended. Lawmakers floated two possible fixes. One change would add references to other religious texts. The other change would delete references to using the Bible in discussions of astronomy, biology and geology — to safeguard against referring to creationism.

But even if SB 1342 is amended as discussed, the bill would advocate the use of religious texts in at least 14 other academic disciplines, from archaeology to world history.

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Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, says this language is necessary to alleviate teachers’ fears about referring to religious texts.

“(SB 1342) just aligns statute with allowed practice — this alignment is done all the time in the legislature with rules and law so that people are protected,” Nuxoll said Tuesday.

Echeverria doesn’t necessarily see the need for the bill. But she also didn’t see the need for her group to take a position on it.

“If the bill is passed, we don’t believe that it will have any impact,” she said. “If the bill is passed, we don’t think that districts or charters will change their current practices.”