The Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees took action Tuesday to update its policy on religious expression in the district’s schools, ensuring consistency with recommended policy language used in other California schools while also supporting activities conducted by faith-based organizations on school campuses.
Board Policy 6141.2, “Religious Expression in the Schools,” updated the previous policy titled “Recognition of Religious Beliefs and Customs.” The policy’s language was changed in order to provide greater specificity regarding students’ rights and the district’s responsibilities related to all aspects of religious expression in the schools, according to Assistant Superintendent Heidi Lawler. Through the updated language, the ability for religious groups that directly interact with students on campus has been strengthened.
“In reviewing board policy recently, specifically relating to some of the unique programs that we provide our students, we recognize the need to include some specific board policy related to the language of expression of religion in our schools,” said Superintendent Dana Trevethan at Tuesday’s Board meeting.
TUSD benefits from the involvement of multiple community organizations which support students, some of which operate around religion. Such groups include the Turlock Chaplaincy, which sends Character Coaches to schools within the district, Jessica’s House, which provides onsite support for grieving students, The Tree House Club, a place of refuge for children in grades first through sixth who have experienced loss, and Prodigal Sons and Daughters, which has partnered with TUSD to help students suffering from addiction.
These organizations often send employees onto school campuses. For example, a student who has been referred to Prodigal Sons and Daughters may receive a follow-up visit from a counselor while at school in order to make sure that the student remains focused on recovery.
The Administrative Regulations which accompany the updated policy describe in detail the regulations for implementing the policy, said Lawler, including “Student Use of School Facilities” and “Lunch Time and Recess Covered,” which allow for religious and non-religious groups to conduct meetings at schools during non-instructional time, such as lunch or recess.
Character Coaches from the Turlock Chaplaincy often frequent lunch times at campuses throughout the district, providing students with mentoring and character development support, as well as occasional life counseling and crisis support when needed. There are currently 43 Character Coaches who actively circulate among students during lunch time.
“I really appreciate us doing this and strengthening the policy so we can facilitate the Character Coaches on our campuses,” said Board President Frank Lima. “It’s great to have good, positive role models on our campuses, and it’s even greater when you know that they’ve had some kind of training and are sensitive to the needs of our students.”
The update to the policy ensures that third parties are unable to interfere with the district’s desire and ability to provide Character Coaches, along with other support systems from other religious organizations, said Lima.
A copy of Board Policy 6141.2 can be found on the agenda for the Aug. 2 Board meeting on the TUSD website, www.turlock.k12.ca.us.