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Schools chief touts faith mentors, but only Christian ones

February 21, 2018

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Faith-based mentors can play an important role in children’s lives, South Carolina’s public schools chief said Wednesday. But in a video focused on the importance of school safety, Education Superintendent Molly Spearman only mentioned the positive influence of sharing the Christian faith with the state’s public school students.

Spearman’s video, prompted by last week’s deadly Florida school shooting, promises a thorough review of safety policies and encourages people to “remain ever vigilant. If you see or hear something, say something.”

She also plugs a faith-based mentoring program, saying, “By sharing Christ’s love, you could be a positive influence that prevents a tragedy like this from occurring.”

The presence of faith-based programs in South Carolina’s public schools has previously come under fire. In November, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which focuses on the separation of church and state, said it was “strenuously objecting” to an evangelical organization mentoring students at an elementary school in Beaufort County. The foundation argued that the school district “cannot allow its schools to be used as religious recruiting grounds.”

Officials said the program taught students non-academic behaviors and attitudes from a Christian mentor. That program was subsequently suspended, although district officials said they were looking at legal ways to make it available again.

Joel Lourie is a Jewish Democrat who served nearly 20 years in the state Legislature. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that, while it’s a good idea to have faith-based mentors in school, Spearman should remember that the Christian faith isn’t the only one.

“I think having faith community mentors in our school is great, but not all children subscribe to the same faith she does,” Lourie told AP. “Perhaps we should be a little more opened-minded when we make those kinds of statements.”

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Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard .

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