Religious and Family Freedom and the Wake County School Board

Saturday, July 29, 2006

We've had another person contact us about the lawsuit today. I'm beginning to understand that there are a lot of people who have been upset by these circumstances, but they just haven't known where to turn. We're glad to give out what information we know. We hope to link some of it here to the blog.

I'd like to share an interesting experience I had today. I was contacted yesterday by our sunday school leader for the children under 12. We call it Primary. She told me that some teachers were out of town tomorrow and asked if I would like to help teach a class. I told her that I'd be happy to, as I love to teach. She told me the lesson number.

Today, I looked up the lesson and found that we are going to be studying the Old Testament, from 1 Samuel, Chapter 17. The name of the lesson? "David and Goliath." It struck me greatly as I read from the chapter. I've always loved this story and remember the many times my father told it to me and explained the origin of my name. The words and story are so compelling to me that I can see the story in my head as I read it.

I've put a few bits of the chapter here, because it's beautiful, and it's relevant to our current circumstances. If you'd like to read the whole story, you can find it here: http://scriptures.lds.org/1_sam/17/1-50#1
4 ¶ And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of aGath, whose height was six bcubits and a span. [This is nearly 10 feet.]
5 And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass.
6 And he had agreaves of brass upon his legs, and ba target of brass between his shoulders.
7 And the astaff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him. [His gear weighed around 150 pounds.]
8 And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me.
9 If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.
10 And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.
11 When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.
12 ¶ Now aDavid was the son of that Ephrathite of Beth-lehem-judah, whose name was Jesse; and he had eight sons: and the man went among men for an old man in the days of Saul.
13 And the three eldest sons of Jesse went and followed Saul to the battle: and the names of his three sons that went to the battle were aEliab the firstborn, and next unto him Abinadab, and the third Shammah.
14 And David was the youngest: and the three eldest followed Saul.
15 But David went and returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Beth-lehem.
16 And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days.
17 And Jesse said unto David his son, Take now for thy brethren an ephah of this parched corn, and these ten loaves, and run to the camp to thy brethren;
20 ¶ And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the trench, as the host was going forth to the fight, and shouted for the battle.
23 And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: and David heard them.
24 And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid.
26 And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the aliving God?
30 And he turned from him toward another, and spake after the same manner: and the people answered him again after the former manner.
31 And when the words were heard which David spake, they rehearsed them before Saul: and he sent for him.
32 ¶ And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant awill go and bfight with this Philistine.
33 And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a ayouth, and he a man of war from his youth.
37 David said moreover, The LORD that adelivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will bdeliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee.
40 And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
42 And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.
43 And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a adog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
44 And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.
45 Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the aname of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
46 This day will the LORD adeliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may bknow that there is a God in Israel.
47 And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the abattle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hands.
48 And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.
49 And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.
50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.
The Israelites were fighting for their freedom both from bondage and for their ability to worship as they believed. I love David's words to Goliath, "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied." David was a small boy standing alone on the field of battle with the largest, strongest man in either army standing opposite him. David's words are truly an example of courage and faith in difficult circumstances.

I think it is a timely reminder to me that it is not our lot to complain when the task is hard or to get depressed when we feel that our trials are overwhelming. We are asked only to have faith and to fight for what we know to be right.

It is a good lesson for all of us.

My name is Rhonda, and as you have already read, our family is involved in a lawsuit against the Wake County School Board. I am going to be posting updated information as to what is happening in our case with hopes that others will be helped and be aware of what the School Board has done and will continue to do if not opposed in these policies. Of course, the religious freedom is an issue, but the issue that spawned the religious freedom problem we are dealing with right now is the fact that the School Board has decided that it is OK to separate siblings that would normally attend the same school. As a result of this one decision, a myriad of other issues have arisen - the opportunities for Brittany and Amber to go to Seminary each morning; the opportunities for Brittany to continue practicing and participating in her quartet and in the Choral Counsel; and the opportunities for Brittany and Amber to attend after-school activities and functions (various lessons and practices). Of course the big issue is that David is gone on almost a weekly basis so I am left to have to decide which child to support during any given week if the girls' concerts and such fall on the same day. As a full-time, in- and out-of-the-home working mother, it is going to be very difficult to volunteer my time between two schools (and we all know that parental involvement in the schools is essential to the education of our sons and daughters).

As of today, our case is set for hearing on August 14th to hear our Motions to Stay the School Board Decision and for an Expedited Hearing. Hopefully we can make some headway against the School Board's delay tactics. The School Board's attorney filed a Motion for an Extension of Time to answer the Petition we filed. As such, they declared that the Brittany would not be prejudiced (prejudiced is a term meaning disadvantaged or harmed) if granted their Motion, so a Judge signed the order the following day approving their extension. As a result, they do not have to answer the Petition until Aug. 14 (now the day of the hearing). School begins on August 25th - just 11 days after defendants have to answer the Petition. The process may weeks, months, or even years in all - a significant amount of time when a child's education is involved.

I will, in future postings, cite the General Statutes that I have used, as well as any other research that I find that may help our cause - or others'. If you have any circumstances such as ours, I pray that you find time to write your School Board representative and let them know how you feel about these issues that our family has raised. I know of many others out there who have missed their opportunities to fight this thoughtless policy of splitting up their children, or that of the School Board dismissing religious beliefs and practices so that their interests may be served, and not those of the children.

If you do not know your School Board representative, you can find their information at the following link: http://www.wcpss.net/Board/boeinfo.html

One a side note, our family was interviewed by a journalist from WUNC-NPR on Saturday, July 23rd. As soon as the piece is ready to air, we will link it to this blog.

We hope that, even if we do not prevail, that others will become aware of the rights that we have, as parents, to fight against the governmental policies that go against our families and our faith.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The News and Observer has written an article covering this issue.

http://www.newsobserver.com/712/story/461670.html

One note, Amber didn't drive last year, but will be this year.

Hello!

My name is David Bailey. This blog is part of my wife's and my effort to get the word out about some bad decisions made recently by the Wake County Public School System School Board regarding the student assignment plan, how it's impacting families in the area, and things we can all do to make the school district better.

I'll start off by summarizing the issue we have found ourselves in. We're a family that has lived within Wake County boundaries for over ten years now. Our children have attended public schools since they were old enough to attend school. One of the reasons we moved to Wake County was because we were aware of the fact that Wake County has schools that score higher on standardized tests than most of the school systems in North Carolina.

Amber and Brittany are my two teenage daughters. Besides being sisters, they are close friends who were born only 18 months apart and share a lot of interests and friends. They love music, art, books, their faith, and learning.

Wake County Public School System (which I'll refer to as WCPSS), is a mammoth school district of over 13,000 teachers and staff, over 120 schools, and around 120,000 students. Due to tremendous growth and schools being built to respond to this growth, students have to get reassigned on a pretty regular basis.

I like to think I'm a reasonably educated guy (I'm a computer systems engineer and consultant), and that my wife is a reasonably educated woman (she's a professional paralegal). I understand that these changes are going to occur.

There are two new high schools that have been built in the past few years. WCPSS typically fills these schools by having only a freshman class in the first year, then the following year, they advance the freshman class to a sophomore class and have a new freshman class, and so on until in the fourth year, they have all four classes. In the case of Holly Springs High School, a school nearby us, they have started the school with two classes- freshman and sophomore.

My daughters are a rising sophomore and junior that attended Middle Creek High School last year together.

Here's the issue. This year, they are being split. Amber is staying as a junior at Middle Creek High School, because Holly Springs High School doesn't have a junior class, and Brittany has been reassigned to Holly Springs High School.

Now, it is my opinion that WCPSS should not be in the habit of splitting families with students that attend the same school level- high, middle, elementary. I know of several cases where they tried to keep housing developments together. They should give at least similar concern to splitting families.

Where this becomes a religious issue is the fact every morning before school, both of my daughters attend a religious studies class called seminary. In my faith (I'm LDS or Mormon) this is an important part of being in high school. Each morning all the youth who attend high school meet for an hour to learn of Christ by studying the scriptures and receiving religious instruction. In seminary, the teachers take attendance and after four years there is a graduation ceremony for seminary graduates.

One challenge to attending seminary in this area is that this class starts early enough to allow the students to attend and still make it to school on time. This is called early-morning seminary. In our case, seminary starts at 6:00AM so they can be done by 7:00AM. Now, I have two teenage daughters, which means they're getting up usually on or before 5:00AM to get ready for school. In some of the western states where LDS members are more numerous, students are allowed to attend seminary in a building near the school during the school day. That is not the case here.

In the past, we have car pooled with another two families to ensure that they can reach school. This year, church members in our area are being split with different families going to different high schools. If we lived any further North, we'd be at a different school, and Holly Springs High and Middle Creek High are in opposite directions from us, each about equally distant.

Now I travel often in my work. Many weeks I'm traveling during the week and back on weekends. My wife also works. Our plan this year is that we're getting a third vehicle so that Amber can take herself and her sister to seminary and also provide transportation to and from after school activities. This is obviously going to be impossible if they are attending different schools.

So if we accept the school reassignment, A) Brittany will no longer be able to attend seminary, or B) we must find a friend to go completely out of their way over 20 minutes round trip at around 5:30AM. I fear they would not remain our friends for long.

Now, we know that WCPSS has a "process" for appealing the student (re)assignment plan. We read online about when WCPSS is going to allow parents to file their appeals. On the day we’re allowed, we mail a letter to WCPSS making our request that Brittany be able to continue attending at Middle Creek High School.

The same day they receive our letter, WCPSS mails us back with a letter stating that our request has been considered and denied. They also inform us that we have one last chance to make an appeal, in person, before a portion of the school board. We duly filed our second appeal.

My wife, Rhonda, put together detailed information about the seminary program and our religious beliefs. She attended a hearing where she had a brief few minutes (I think it was five or so) to present her case to two school board members. She did so and was courteously received. Unfortunately, I was not able to be there myself. Rhonda was encouraged because she felt that even though it was brief that they listened and were certain that once they understood our circumstances, they would grant our appeal.

Three days later, we receive another letter from the school board stating that our appeal has been denied and that we have no other appeal. We were flabbergasted. Rhonda spent hours pouring over various policy and legal documents, made calls to school board members, the school Superintendent's office, and other staff members at WCPSS. Basically, the answer they all gave us was, there is no further appeal process, live with it. (Well, I added the live with it, but that was basically it.) The letter actually stated that “there was no further appeal process.”

Rhonda is a paralegal and simply cannot believe that the school board can get away with this kind of blatant disregard for our religious beliefs and the well-being of our children. The school board is supposed to represent us as parents and are required by law to take into account the well-being of the children.

Unfortunately, many members of school boards of large school systems become highly political and attempt to distance themselves from controversial decisions such as student reassignment. To do this they assign independent committees to draw up these plans and then the school board votes to implement them as a whole, stating that it was a difficult but necessary decision, and to individual parents that have problems they basically say “hey look, it’s not our fault that this plan has problems. We had to do something.”

In this case, my wife found both state and federal laws that require a school system to protect the religious beliefs of the students, I’ll let her talk about those herself, as well as laws that require the school board to consider the circumstances of each appeal and not to act capriciously or arbitrarily. This means they are supposed to take into account the well-being of the student in each and every appeal case, and not provide some sort of mass decision not based on the circumstances of the appeal itself.

She also finds that there is in fact a specific process laid out in North Carolina statutes that explain how a school board decision is not final and there is a process that allows for judicial review. However, it has a very tight time frame. You have to initiate this process a mere 30 days after receiving notice that your appeal was denied. At the time my wife found this, it was a Friday and our deadline was Tuesday.

Now we aren’t wealthy and we don’t keep an attorney on retainer. It would also have been very difficult to get any attorney on this case so quickly. Rhonda knows a few things about law being a paralegal. We spoke and decided to take action on our own. We rapidly worked together through the weekend putting together our request for judicial review and then I took Rhonda to the courthouse on Monday. She did a marvelous job and ended up with a package of 20 or so pages for the school board and for each school board member. Although she had to change a few forms when she filed the paperwork at the courthouse, it went out that day largely intact. Each packet gets mailed by certified mail to ensure delivery and get the date that it was received. This gets documented as part of the case.

And that is how we have filed our first law suit.

We have spoken many times about this as a family. None of us is deluded. We realize that this is a very challenging situation: two middle-class parents filing a suit against one of the largest school districts in the country who have many staff and attorneys at their call.

However, we take strength from a few things. Firstly, we feel this is right. We feel obligated to take advantage of the fact that we live in a free society and we are allowed to raise questions and make these kinds of issues known about so we can help make this system better for everyone. When people don’t stand up for their rights, they lose them.

Secondly, we are becoming aware that we are not the only ones who are concerned about the handling of this issue by the school board. While some of the school board members have been very kind and willing to speak with us, others have not and have shown disregard for us as parents and for our daughters as students. This kind of disinterest and apathy should not be tolerated in our representatives on the school board. By speaking publicly about this issue we can inform others about their rights and help them get accurate information about what their options are.

I have been told that this is only the second lawsuit filed against the school board over the issue of student reassignment in ten years. I find that amazing considering the lack of effect our appeals have had. I think the reason for this is the misinformation, such as stating you have no further appeal, and the bureaucratic hurdles, three appeals being filed in short succession or you lose your ability to appeal, and has left many parents feeling helpless and impotent. This must change. The school board and school system works for the citizens and parents who fund the school system. A public school system means it belongs to the public.

I’ll continue to put information here as it develops.

Feel free to express your concerns to the school board, the local media, and local political leaders. As a group we can change things for the better. As voters we can vote in school board members that understand the role of the school board better and replace those who have become too comfortable in their situation.

Thanks for your interest,

David Bailey

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