I lived in Valley Junction in West Des Moines, IA when Hillside Elementary was being built. It seemed like a waste of money to me then as there were already two elementary schools in the area, and one early childhood center. I’m sure there was a good reason for building it as West Des Moines Community Schools already owned the land there. It has been long enough ago that I really don’t remember the rationale. However shoddy work was done on the windows – I know it’s hard to believe taxpayer money would pay for shoddy work – and the windows leaked.
So the school district learns that the school will not be ready for another 8-10 weeks into the school year. You can imagine the freak out session that occurred when they learned that piece of news. Where to put the kids? What building is large enough to accommodate the 600 kids who have now been displaced?
A solution was presented to the school district – Lutheran Church of Hope would allow them to use their building. Honestly outside of church buildings there really aren’t any buildings large enough, at least ones that are not being used already on weekdays or need a ton of remodeling. What a generous offer! This isn’t the first time that a church has helped the school district out. Valley Church in West Des Moines has offered space to Jordan Creek Elementary before as well. It’s a win-win. The schools get to use the church buildings, if not for free, then I’m sure for a reasonable price. The churches are able to serve the community in a practical way.
Apparently this arrangement has the ACLU of Iowa concerned. That isn’t surprising they’re always concerned, but what is surprising is how West Des Moines Community Schools responded when contacted by The Des Moines Register.
Ben Stone, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said officials with the school and the church need to take precautions to ensure students do not receive religious instruction or pressure.
“I think it’s important there be considerations for religious liberties of students and that no students be placed in a position where they’re going to be confronted with religious messages that really are not appropriate for the school setting,” Stone said.
School district spokeswoman Elaine Watkins-Miller said the need for those separations has been “clearly communicated” to the church.
“We have specifically stated to them the requirement for separation of church and state, and they have said they will make accommodations where they can,” she said.
That likely includes removing nonpermanent religious materials in hallways and classrooms where schoolchildren will be present, she said.
Ummm… whose building is it? If you don’t like it don’t use the church building. Instead of presenting demands to the church perhaps it would be best to shut up and just say, “thank you,” because they certainly didn’t need to offer up their space. I’m sure it will also be inconvenient for their children’s and youth ministries while the school district is using the space. Yes, heaven forbid that kids see posters with Bible verses on them and the like! The horror!
The school district did not purchase the religious materials. They are not giving religious instruction. They may not even be paying for the space (I haven’t had the chance to call and ask). The West Des Moines Community Schools and the ACLU of Iowa obviously have a warped view of the establishment clause in the First Amendment.