|First Baptist Church is part of the Fort Thomas Ministerial Association. FTM file.|
In the past, the program was held during the school day, one day a week for an hour. Attendance is optional and requires a permission slip from the parents or legal guardian. Children walk off school grounds, led by a volunteer, and return back within that hour. It has changed through the years as to how many elementary grades participate, but for many years it's been only second and third graders that are involved.
Johnson Elementary school students walked to the home of David Walkenhorst, Moyer Elementary students walked to Christ Church, and Woodfill Elementary school students walked to First Christian church.
The program is planned and implemented by the Fort Thomas Ministerial Association. There are seven Protestant churches that make up the Ministerial Association: Christ Church, First Baptist Church, Highland Hills Baptist Church, First Christian Church, Highland United Methodist Church, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, and First Presbyterian Church. The Chair of the association is Rev. Jeff Queen of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.
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According to their handout, the purpose of the program is to "offer primary students a class which deals with life issues and values from a Christian perspective through the study of Biblical stories."
The goals of the class are: 1- "to increase knowledge of God, Jesus Christ and the Bible," 2- "to improve relationships with others," and 3- "to inspire reverence for God's creation."
Rev. Queen said the association decided to move the program to after school. "We want to encourage a good relationship with the community and there are some parents who have concerns with the program being offered during the school day."
He went on to say, "The program won't start this school year until after the winter break since the Ministerial Association needs time to revamp their lesson plans to deal with a lot more students attending at one time." Offering the program one time a week at each school means that all the classes will be attending at the same time so they're hoping to recruit more volunteers to help with the students. Since the program is after school, they will meet inside the school buildings.
Kentucky is one of several states that offer a "released-time Christian educational program." Virginia has the largest amount of schools participating and many more exist in at least 32 states nationwide. The majority of them in Kentucky offer the program after school.
The ACLU got involved in Kentucky in 1989 when they discovered children that didn't participate were given nothing to do for an hour. The case was settled and enrichment activities are now offered to students not participating.
Many parents have been surprised to learn it's constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1952 that it was constitutional as long as students left school grounds if it's held during the school day, and the program is optional. Kentucky has several laws that were passed that give a more detailed description of what is allowed, how it should be arranged, and that there can only be noncredit enrichment courses or activities offered for students whose parents decide that their child should not participate.
There have been several times in the past that parents, or groups of parents, have attended a Fort Thomas School Board meeting to discuss concerns about the program. They've felt that children who don't attend feel ostracized or left out when the children come back with treats, special pencils, etc. Parents have also brought up the concern that about a week's worth of instruction time is being lost. And their last concern is the safety of the children when walking back and forth, especially in the winter when there are icy sidewalks.
In 2009, a group of parents from Moyer Elementary addressed the school board with these concerns. There were some small changes made in how it was marketed to the parents of the children.
Last year, a group of parents from Woodfill Elementary attended a school board meeting and requested that a conversation between parents, board members, and the Ministerial Association begin so they could address some of these issues. It was a friendly and respectful discussion that added to the decision to move the program to after school.