The Board of Directors of the Kent School District acknowledges the role of religion in understanding our society and the richness of the human experience. Fostering the development of knowledge and respect for the right of all cultural and religious groups is a continuing goal of the district. However, the Board also recognizes the diversity in views and opinions regarding the relationship between religion and public school policies.
While community opinions are important in shaping policy, the Board must look primarily to the Constitution of the United States, the Washington State Constitution, federal and state legislation, and the decisions made by the respective courts when establishing guidelines regarding religious-related activities and practice, as well as regarding the rights of students to the free exercise and expression of religious beliefs while in school or attending school-related activities. To this end, the Board concurs with the regulation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction acknowledging that "all students … possess the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion and to have their schools free from sectarian control or influence."
Religious Related Activities & Practices
Regarding religious-related expression, activities, or practices, the public schools of the district are obligated to:
- treat religion and religious faith with fairness and respect;
- neither advance nor inhibit religion;
- vigorously protect religious expression as well as the freedom of conscience of all students; and
- refrain from spending public funds or sponsor activities in a manner that has the primary effect of promoting or negating religious beliefs
Factual and objective teaching about religions and their role in society is distinguished from religious instruction. Public schools may teach about religions within a cultural and historic context for the purpose of meeting secular, educational objectives recognizing that schools can neither encourage nor discourage religion. (See Policy 2020).
Guidelines for Maintaining Religious Neutrality
District schools must be free from sectarian control or influence during school-conducted or school-sponsored activities for students who are under the district’s supervision and control. Criteria used to guide academic inquiry in the study of religion shall seek the same neutrality, objectivity and educational effectiveness expected in other areas of the curriculum. In addition, materials and activities should be sensitive to America's pluralistic society and must educate rather than indoctrinate.
Complaints Concerning Religious Related Activities or Practices
Students, parents and employees who are aggrieved by practices or activities conducted in the school or district may seek resolution of their concern first with the building principal, then with the district Superintendent or designee, or use Ombudservices which are available through the Schools Community Partnerships Officer at (253) 373-7117.
Guidelines for Student Religious Expression, Absences and Attire
The following guidelines apply to the rights of students regarding religious expression and absences due
to religious services, observances, holidays, or training
During Instructional Time
Students may engage in religious expression in a manner that is not disruptive to the learning process and/or relevant to the class curriculum, discussion, or assignment. As with other types of speech at school, religious speech should never be such that a reasonable person would perceive it as harassing, intimidating, bullying, or coercive. Students should strive in all forms of communication to be respectful to other students, staff, and visitors.
During Non-Instructional Time
Students may engage in religious expression and activities unless the expression substantially interferes with the operation of the school or infringes on the rights of other students. This includes the right to distribute religious literature in the same reasonable time,
place, and manner required of students distributing nonreligious materials. As with other types of speech at school, religious speech should never be such that a reasonable person would perceive it as harassing, intimidating, bullying, or coercive. Students should strive in all forms of communication to be respectful to other students, staff, and visitors.
Students may express their beliefs about religion in classwork, homework, artwork, evaluations, tests, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. School personnel must grade the work, art, evaluation, test, or assignment not on religious expression, but instead grade the student’s performance on scholastic content such as spelling, sentence structure, grammar, and the degree to which the student’s performance reflects the instruction and objectives established by the school personnel.
Freedom from Retaliation & Censure
School personnel may not subject an individual student who expresses religious beliefs or opinions to any form of retribution or negative consequence and may not penalize the student’s standing, evaluations, or privileges in response to such expression. School
personnel may not censure a student’s expression of religious beliefs or opinions, when relevant or appropriate, in any class, work, homework, evaluations or tests, extracurricular activities, or other activities under the sponsorship or auspices of the school district.
Religious Student Groups
If non-curriculum-related student groups are permitted to meet on school premises during non-instructional time, students will be permitted to meet to discuss political, philosophical, religious, or other issues provided such group meetings are student-initiated, student-managed and in compliance with Policy 2153 authorizing such meetings.
A student may of his/her own volition engage in non-disruptive prayer at any time not in conflict with learning activities or events. School staff shall neither encourage nor discourage a student from engaging in non-disruptive oral prayer, silent prayer, or any other form of nondisruptive devotional activity. Prescribed times for religious prayer that require a brief, reasonable absence from classroom instruction or activities will be accommodated to the extent that the absence is with the permission of a parent or guardian and does not substantially disrupt the class/activity or significantly impact the student’s learning or testing.
Absences for Religious Reasons
Upon the request of a parent or guardian, a student may be excused from attending school in observance of a religious holiday. A student may also be excused upon the request of a parent or guardian to participate in religious instruction for a portion of a school day, provided that the activity is not conducted on school property. School credit will not be granted for such instruction. Whenever possible, students will be allowed to make up assignments and testing/assessments in the same manner as with any excused absence.
When a school is made aware that a student may be engaged in an extended period of religious fasting, the student may be excused from lunch and strenuous physical activity. School personnel may use their discretion based on the totality of the facts regarding whether testing or assessment for a particular student should be rescheduled.
Students may wear religious attire, symbols, or religious messages on clothing provided that the attire, symbols, or messages are not materially and substantially disruptive to the educational process or infringe on the rights of others. Religious messages on clothing are subject to the same rules as generally applied to comparable nonreligious messages and expression.
In addition, schools will permit students of either gender engaged in physical education to wear longer shorts, sweatpants, or other types of clothing suitable for physical activity when a request is made to do so based on the student’s religious beliefs.
Guidelines for Non-Student Religious Expression, School Events and Facility Use by Religious Groups in the Community
Material, literature, and/or announcements promoting religion may not be distributed by non-students or on behalf of groups or individuals that are not students.
Religious services, programs or assemblies will not be conducted in school facilities during school hours or in connection with any school-sponsored or school-related activity. Religious groups may rent school facilities under the same policy providing for facilities rental by other community groups (See Policy 4260). Activities of such groups will be clearly separated from school-sponsored activities so that the school district does not support or appear to support the establishment of religion.
Programs at commencement and other school-sponsored events will be free from religious influence, including invocations, benedictions, and other prayers.
There will be no school sponsorship of baccalaureate services. Interested parents and students may plan and organize baccalaureate exercises provided that the service is not promoted through the school. Employee and student participation is voluntary.