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School officials considering religion-based class

A potential new elective course at Jackson High School revolving around Christian scripture could be offered to the Butts County school board for approval next spring, said Butts County Schools Superintendent Robert “Buddy” Costley.

A newly formed non-profit group, the Butts County Christian Learning Center (CLC), approached the school system earlier this year about adding the elective course, and Costley said he’s been in communication with the group as it seeks his recommendation of the course to the school board.

The class is planned to be taught at First Baptist Church of Jackson, located directly across the street from Jackson High School, for a maximum of 14 students. Costley stressed that it would be offered as an elective and would be funded solely by the Butts County CLC.

“Butts County Schools is not offering a religion course. We can teach about religion, but we can’t teach a religion class,” Costley explained. “No student will be required to take the class, and it will not be funded by the school system in any way, and we will also not use our busses to transport the students to the class.”

Costley said he has met with board members of the local CLC, which is formed of local pastors and community leaders, and noted they must meet certain criteria before he will recommend the course to the school board.

Butts County CLC President Rick Stubbs, a pastor at Pleasant Grove Church, said the project is still in its infant stages as the CLC board continues to work out a plan to deliver the course.

“We’re still putting things together in terms of specifics,” Stubbs said. “We just want to offer parents and students something that we felt there was a demand for. Students wouldn’t be forced or coerced to take it, and they would need their parents’ permission.”

Other members of the Butts County CLC board include Vice President Robert L. Henderson, Donald Mapp, Julie Adcock, Scott Chewning, Eric Clemons and Donald Tinsley.

The criteria Costley mentioned includes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation of the course, meaning the credit earned by students for taking the course will count toward a high school diploma at Jackson High School and other SACS-accredited schools.

Additionally, the Butts County CLC will need to demonstrate its financial means, hold insurance, arrange for transportation, devise a method for fair selection of students into the course, and ensure general safety of the students, Costley said.

Costley said the course, if approved, would likely be taught during the final block of classes during the school day, and the students would not need to report back to the high school after being dismissed from the class.

“There is a strong feeling by many parents that they would love to have an opportunity for their children to receive Bible-based education. However, with the separation of church and state, we cannot use government funds to do that,” Costley explained.

“This gives them the best of both worlds — to continue their public education ... and go across the street to receive an elective credit in religious education. We feel like it’s good for the families and may be a culture builder for the school.”