A school district has put an end to a lunch hour Bible class at a public elementary school after receiving a complaint from a local activist group.
Christoper Karel, a fifth-grade teacher at Alward Elementary, has been meeting with students for Bible study during lunchtime, but he was recently ordered by Hudsonville Public Schools to discontinue the sessions following a complaint from Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA).
"Every public-school teacher, principal, and superintendent should know that they are prohibited from engaging in any activity with students that involves religious beliefs, rituals, or doctrines," said MACRA spokesman Mitch Kahle.
According to a news release from MACRA, a parent said that their 10-year-old child was "singled out and subjected to peer pressure" for not attending the Bible classes.
Hudsonville Assistant Superintendent Scott Smith said that the district was not aware of the Bible study sessions prior to MACRA's complaint, but it had taken immediate action after being contacted by the activist group.
"District administration verified the details of Mr. Kahle's report, and the teacher (who thought the Bible discussion was appropriate because it was during lunch and voluntary) immediately put an end to these lunch meetings. We will continue to communicate and educate staff at all levels on the District's policies related to religion in schools," a statement from the district read, according to Wood TV.
Hudsonville Public Schools and MACRA are disputing the facts surrounding the issue as district officials have stated that the Bible study group had only met twice, while the activist group claims that the sessions have been held for years.
"Assistant Superintendent Smith's claim that the 'District administration was not aware' rings hollow, as Principal McClure and the teachers were most certainly aware of the long-running transgression," MACRA said in the statement.
Smith said that the district had received information that between 35 and 45 students had attended one or both of the meetings in total. He further noted that the district had not received any complaints about the meetings other than the one from the activist group.
Kahle stated that two parents have complained about the Bible classes that have been ongoing this semester every Friday at lunch, and Thursdays if school was out on Fridays.
The MACRA spokesman said that the Bible study sessions were concerning because it was the second complaint against the district in less than two years.
In 2015, the group complained to the district about a Bible study being led by Bible Club Ministries International of Western Michigan in a recreational vehicle at the parking lot of Georgetown Elementary during lunch hour.
Smith said that the district informs its teachers and administrators each year to help clarify the boundaries that public schools must follow in regard to religion. He claimed that district officials have no knowledge of Bible studies occurring at any of its other elementary schools, and he assured the parents that they can feel comfortable approaching the district to raise their concerns.