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Despite controversy, Texas district adding Bible class.

Controversy swirls around the Ector County (Texas) Independent School District's unanimous decision recently to approve an elective course in biblical literacy for its high school students beginning in the fall of 2006.

"I know that there are people with concerns about it," says Schools Superintendent Wendell Sollis. "We [need to] make them understand that it is an elective. We're not making anyone take it. And it's going to be academic, not devotional."

Some fear the town of Odessa's move is part of a growing religious conservative movement sweeping the nation and chipping away at the wall of separation between church and state, but Elizabeth Ridenour, president of the National Council on Biblical Curriculum in Public Schools which creates the curriculum, says the popularity comes from word of mouth. "I think school districts have always wanted this--they just needed to know it's legal," she says.

While Ector County has yet to choose a curriculum, the board heard from a representative of Ridenour's North Carolina-based council in March that the organization's coursework is not about preaching and that it meets constitutional requirements.

"We do not say this is the truth," explains Ridenour. "The teachers are instructed to say, 'This is what the Bible says', and students are asked to draw their own conclusions."

Sollis says administators will get input from parents, teachers other administrators. "We want students to get a historical understanding of the content of the Bible," Sollis adds.

The class will be taught as a history or literature course and students will take written exams.

The curriculum includes literature and the Bible, archeology and the Bible, and biblical art. It also includes how the Bible influenced the country's founding fathers' oral views and how it influenced our educational and legal system, Ridenour says.

Since the council began offering the curriculum a decade ago, more than 170,000 students in 301 school districts in 35 states have taken the course. Texas is the most active state with 49 school districts offering a Bible class.

Groups like the People for the American Way Foundation plan to monitor the case to make sure the curriculum in Odessa is constitutional and does not violate the principles of religious freedom.

Ridenour said her organization's curriculum has never been legally challenged, although she acknowledges it stirs up controversy. "Some people don't want even the mention of God in a public arena and they see even a Bible as offensive," she adds.

In January, a school board in Frankenmuth, Mich., ended a year-long debate by deciding not to use the council's curriculum.
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Title Annotation:update: Education news from schools, businesses, research and government agencies
Author:Rivard, Nicole
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Words:425
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