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So long, Willard Intermediate Chess Club. Sayonara, Willard Gardening Club. Say good bye to the “Claws” Club at Willard, run by a security officer there, teaching the tougher kids respect for law and order and having them help with hall monitor-type duties.
What’s happened, at Wednesday’s staff meeting, is that Willard principal Dennis Cole, on learning that his “Jaguars For Jesus” teacher-led prayer/bible study club was unconstitutional and would likely result in a lawsuit, reacted by banning ALL of Willard’s student clubs.
As you can hear in the recording below of the staff meeting, Mr. Cole’s reasoning is that it’s “unconstitutional” for some kids to be able to have one kind of club and others not to be able to have another kind of club. What utter BS sophistry! It’s the Cole-initiated, teacher-led religious club “Jaguars for Jesus” that’s unconstitutional. There’s nothing unconstitutional about the chess club or the “Claws” club; banning those is theatrical and cruel on Cole’s part. (The first 8 minutes or so of this recording are relevant to this story.)
[Adding insult to injury, according to several witnesses, the teacher-led "Jaguars For Jesus" have met twice, even after the Wednesday announcement of all clubs being banned!]
It’s unclear what the “lies” are that Cole claims, in this recording, have been told about him. The facts are not in dispute – a while back he approached three or four similarly devout teachers and asked them to lead a prayer and Bible study group for students. The Supreme Court has ruled that public school students can lead their own religious clubs, and teachers can also have their own little prayer group, but for teachers to lead a student prayer group is a breach of the separation between church and state, giving the impressionable young people the idea that a particular religion enjoys the school’s (ergo the government’s) endorsement.
The horrible scary “atheist group” Cole refers to early on in the above recording is the “Freedom From Religion Foundation,” a national nonprofit representing 16,000 members and dedicated to preserving the separation of church and state. Here’s part of the letter they sent to Supervisor Russo and Principal Cole which prompted his passive-aggressive over-reaction; it’s got all the facts and legalese you could wish for :
…It is our information that Willard Intermediate School offers a religious club called “Jaguars for Jesus.” It is our understanding that this club meets during the lunch hour. We were informed that Principal Dennis Cole has approached teachers and other staff to lead this club. It is our further understanding that there may be some participation by persons from a local church.
First, it is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer, or promote religion. See generally, Lee v. Weisman, Wallace v. Jaffree, Epperson v. Arkansas, School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, Engel v. Vitale… Therefore, a public school may not sponsor a Christian club. We are deeply concerned that “Jaguars For Jesus” is school-sponsored and not “student-initiated” or “student-run.” We are told that “Jaguars For Jesus” is teacher-led, and occurs on school property during the school day. A reasonable Willard Intermediate student would presume that this Christian club is sponsored by the school. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the intermediate school, and therefore the SAUSD, endorses religion over nonreligion, and specifically Christianity over all other faiths.
Second, the involvement of school staff in the club raises grave concerns. Even if this club is truly student-initiated, it is grossly irresponsible for teachers, other public school employees or outside adults to actively participate in or promote these student-run religious organizations…
Now Cole has jumped the shark by banning all clubs. Maybe he expected to get sympathy by spreading out the pain, or thinks he’ll unite everyone else in his defense, but it sure sounds like a move that’s bound to backfire. For months now our SAUSD corruption thread has been overflowing with various grievances against this mercurial autocrat – see here, here, here. SAUSD Supervisor Jane Russo should immediately order him to re-instate all the non-offending student clubs.
NOTE: This story will be updated today (Monday 12-13) as I attempt to contact Principal Cole and Supervisor Russo for their perspectives on this mess…