It may seem like a very small change in wording, but the effect of minor changes to an Okanagan Skaha School District policy will have a lasting effect on how an annual charity drive is handled in the schools.
Adding “strictly secular” to the school district policy on political/religious materials and activities in schools puts an end to school involvement in Operation Christmas Child, at least as a sponsored activity.
“She said the fact that we don’t put the pamphlets in the box at the school is irrelevant,” said district superintendent Wendy Hyer, reporting on legal advice she was given while reviewing the policy. “It’s predominant purpose is not to deliver school supplies. It’s actually for evangelical purposes and therefore can’t be sponsored or supported by school personnel.”
The changes bring to an end the ongoing debate over the charitable program operated by the Franklin Graham ministries, which encourages children to fill shoeboxes with school supplies and other essentials for distribution to children in Third World countries.
Previously, schools were allowed to participate in the program, provided that the religious materials were removed before the project was passed on to students.
“Upon further investigation of the Franklin Graham organization, it appears that when the boxes arrived in Africa, there was religious materials added and there were coercive methods used to get kids to come to certain religious instruction courses as a condition of getting the box filled with the gifts of well-meaning people in our community who gave to our students,” said trustee Tom Siddon, who had previously supported the program. “It does appear that there may have been an exploitation of the opportunity for religious proselytizing purposes.”
This review was sparked by a letter to the board earlier this year from Reverend Callum Jones, questioning the ethics of turning the boxes inside out, an attempt by some schools to balance supporting the charitable aspects of the project with district policy against proselytizing.
Under the new wording of the policy, school district staff will not be able to sponsor the program, nor can it be conducted during instructional time.
“You can have other groups, during non-instructional time, support a club for a purpose like this, but it can’t be staff,” said Hyer, adding that schools will still be able to provide space for the event. “It could be the pastor coming to the school and working with the kids, but it can’t involve support from the school.”
Another charitable project,10,000 Tonight, will still be encouraged, continued Hyer, since that one doesn’t involve proselytizing, instead being a community effort to gather food for the food bank.
“They don’t have to attend an activity to receive food,” said Hyer.