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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco schools superintendent cautions coaches not to pray with players

27

September

Just hours before Friday night football was to kick off, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning today sent principals a pointed reminder that district employees -- such as coaches -- are not permitted to participate in religious activities with their students while performing their official duties.

In recent weeks, there have been several instances where coaches have led prayer with their teams.

"Students can initiate and lead prayers during any non-instructional time that you normally allow students to engage in nonreligious activities," Browning wrote. "Adults may not initiate or lead prayers when acting in their official school district capacity, but are free to pray or worship privately or silently. We want students to be able to exercise their faith at appropriate times and places, but we don’t want anyone to feel coerced into participating or to feel ostracized if they choose not to participate."

Browning attached federal guidelines and School Board policy (see #8800) as references.

The Tampa Bay Times will have more on the role of prayer in high school football this weekend. Read below for Browning's full memo.

TO:  All Principals
FROM: Superintendent Kurt S. Browning
DATE:  September 26, 2013
RE:  Religious observance
It has come to my attention that some of our schools and staff members may not be aware of the laws related to Constitutionally-protected prayer in public schools.
In Pasco County Schools, we respect every child’s and every adult’s right to exercise their faith.  At the same time, we have an obligation to adhere to laws that prohibit teachers, school administrators, and other school employees, while acting in their official capacity, from encouraging or discouraging prayer and from actively participating in prayer activities with students.
In other words, students can initiate and lead prayers during any non-instructional time that you normally allow students to engage in nonreligious activities.  Adults may not initiate or lead prayers when acting in their official school district capacity, but are free to pray or worship privately or silently.  We want students to be able to exercise their faith at appropriate times and places, but we don’t want anyone to feel coerced into participating or to feel ostracized if they choose not to participate.  
I have attached School Board Policy 8800 and a guidance document to help principals balance the rights of students and staff, while also abiding by the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, other laws, and School Board policy.  If you have additional questions after reading the attached documents, please let me know.



[Last modified: Friday, September 27, 2013 3:17pm]

    

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