October 5, 2013

Schools in Biddeford asked to apologize

The ACLU of Maine says a program subjected some students to ‘overtly religious presentations.’

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Biddeford schools

Should two Biddeford schools apologize for presentations to students deemed "overtly religious" by the ACLU?

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ACLU letter to Biddeford schools

Life Choices describes its presentation “as a fast-paced, motivational and multi-media event” that uses videos, music and real life experiences.

The presentation includes descriptions of Rachel Scott, who Phillips said was asked if she believed in God before she was shot in the head by Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

Life Choices also encourages students to respect themselves and others and avoid being pressured into sexual activity, although it stops short of pushing an abstinence-only message, Phillips said.

“We’re not telling kids not to have sex, we’re telling them they should be respected,” she said. During the presentation, Phillips performs a song called “Don’t Give Your Love Away.”

The Biddeford schools presentations were “fully vetted” by the principals and superintendent, Phillips said. She said the ACLU in Texas raised similar concerns about her presentation several years ago, but nothing came of it.

“I don’t think we’re in any danger of getting the schools in trouble,” Phillips said.

Phillips gave her Life Choices presentation to ninth-graders at Massabesic High School on Sept. 23. Superintendent John Davis said a parent approached him afterward with concerns about the content, which prompted him to investigate and ultimately make changes in how the school department vets presentations.

Davis said Life Choices was described to the school department as an anti-bullying presentation and the district “had done what we thought was our due diligence in investigating what they wanted to do and what their presentation contained.”

The presentation was sponsored by a local church and did not cost the district any money, he said.

“On the surface, it sounded reasonable,” Davis said, noting only freshmen attended the assembly. “Whether it was one grade or one student, it didn’t meet my expectations about what is appropriate in a public school.”

Davis said he notified other schools about the content of the presentation. In the future, Massabesic officials will seek out references for similar presentations, ask organizations to be more specific about their messages, and encourage staff members to stop or redirect presentations they feel may be inappropriate for students.

Healy said the ACLU of Maine so far has sent letters only to Biddeford schools, but will look at other instances where the presentation was given in public schools.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6310 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com

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Today's poll: Biddeford schools

Should two Biddeford schools apologize for presentations to students deemed "overtly religious" by the ACLU?

Yes

No

View Results