Off-campus religious instruction proposed

(Posted Dec. 20, 2023)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

A group of community members wants to offer religious instruction to Madison-Plains School District students off-campus during the school day.

Jeff Prosise, treasurer and spokesperson for Wings of Hope 337, addressed the school board on Dec. 12. He said the group hopes to run a pilot program once a week for six to eight weeks starting in the spring of 2024. The pilot program would be open to a limited number of students and take place at Midway Presbyterian Church in Sedalia, approximately an eight-minute drive from the Madison-Plains campus. Student participation would be voluntary; parent permission would be required.

The goal, Prosise said, would be “to build and strengthen good morals and values in our children by providing a means for biblical instruction during the school day.”

The Ohio Revised Code allows for “released time” instruction–a period of time during which a student is excused from school to take part in religious instruction conducted by a private entity off school district property. No public funds or public personnel are involved, and students cannot be released from a core curriculum subject course to participate.

School districts may adopt a “released time” policy. Madison-Plains has one in place. Madison-Plains Superintendent Chad Eisler said that, to the best of his knowledge, Wings of Hope 337 is the first entity to approach the district with a proposed program.

In addition to Prosise, members of the Wings of Hope 337 board include: Phil Starr, lead pastor at Mount Sterling First Church of the Nazarene; Austin Hill, Mount Sterling Nazarene pastor of family ministry; Billy Warner; and Dave Thompson. Matt Cordell is the site coordinator.

For its program, Wings of Hope 337 plans to use a framework developed by School Ministries of Ohio (SMO), an organization that helps groups to start and sustain released time bible education. Volunteers, primarily from Mount Sterling Nazarene, would staff the program. SMO would help to identify volunteers’ skills and put the right people in the right spots, Prosise said.

As required by law, Wings of Hope 337 would provide participating students with transportation to and from Midway Presbyterian, courtesy of Mount Sterling Nazarene. SMO would provide liability insurance on the premises. The group would provide all of the needed staffing and funding for materials and resources. Ohio law also requires such programs to track student attendance.

Following Prosise’s presentation at the school board meeting, Eisler said he plans to gather more information about released time programs and to talk to the school district’s building-level administrators. He also plans to talk more with Wings of Hope 337 organizers to get a more detailed idea of what such a program would look like. He said he will update the school board once he has gathered more information.

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