Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Fellowship of Christian Athletes' adults will need training before they can access Hillsborough schools

TAMPA — Adults who work for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes have been told to stay out of Hillsborough County public schools until they receive training on Monday.

The move stems from a complaint about access the organization's staff had with students on campus during noninstructional time, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

Arja said she did not know any details about the complaint, including what schools were involved or when it was filed.

Representatives of the organization, a Christian ministry for coaches and student-athletes, are meeting this week with district staffers. Anyone who wants to visit the schools will be required to attend Monday's training.

"This does not affect student-led clubs," Arja said.

Founded in 1954 and based in Kansas City, Mo., the fellowship exists "to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes," according to the vision statement on its website.

District leaders, questioned earlier this year about their relationship with Idlewild Baptist Church and a Christian youth organization called First Priority, have been working to clarify the role religious organizations can have in schools.

It's a delicate balance, as the school district is governed by distinct legal principles under federal law. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment says that government — including public schools — cannot take actions that serve to establish an official religion.

But the Equal Access Act of 1984 says tax-funded middle and high schools must allow student-led clubs, including those that discuss religion.

"The district will remain inclusive and neutral among religions and between religion and non-religion by implementing protocols, policies, and procedures which offers unbiased safeguards for our students and their educational pursuits," MaryLou Whaley, director of parent and community involvement, wrote in an email to the district's athletic director.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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