Parents Holding "Jesus Lunches" Clash With School Officials

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The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District has released the following message regarding "Jesus Lunches," a controversial series of gathering that have sparked a debate about evangelism in public schools:

Dear families,

We wanted to share the following message that was sent to Middleton High School staff and families earlier today. We believe there is interest from our wider District community, plus we also wanted to provide information in case you see something in the media in the next few days.

We are writing to share with you some background on a topic your student may have come home and shared with you. There is a small group of parents who have been organizing free lunches at Middleton High School over the past year.

These lunches began on a very small scale with one / two parents bringing sandwiches to their own children at MHS, sitting down with them at lunch, outside the building and discussing their Christian faith. It then expanded to the parents bringing more and more lunches to give to students interested in sitting down and discussing their religious faith. In speaking with parents about concerns regarding informal gatherings growing into larger ones with the dissemination of food and giving away of Bibles. The parents / students moved from outdoors on the south lawn of the school, to an off campus location (which would have been allowable but would have required school administration to inform parents of any incentivizing of students to eat lunch free in exchange for attendance), and finally to Fireman’s  Park in the fall of 2015. In both cases of the south lawn and off campus locations, Steve Plank expressed an opposition to this growing event, and conveyed to these parents that this practice violates school and district policy.

The group went to the City of Middleton and reserved Fireman’s Park starting in September of 2015. The parents provided large quantities of free food at the pavilion and began more organized events. The lunch event developed the name “Jesus Lunch” amongst MHS students, as it promoted a Christian-based worship. Steve Plank once again asked the parents to stop holding these lunches. They refused, and continued to expand them. The School District’s lease of Fireman’s Park permits enforcement of school policies during school hours / days.

The School District's concerns related to this event come down to policy expectations that MCPASD maintains—policies in place to ensure student safety, health and welfare. The policies in question include food handling, visitors to campus, and expectations around student organized events. We are in no way interested in opposing religious practice in otherwise legal circumstances. Below are three of the policies being ignored:

· Anyone providing food for students must follow the district’s food handling standards found in the district Food Safety Plan.  Food of any kind that is served to students must be approved by the school / district to ensure food safety, cleanliness, and health. In addition, many students are subject to food allergies, so additional protocols must be followed to safeguard students with these conditions. A parent group bringing large quantities of food to a school also raises significant questions regarding whether it is, in fact, an adult organized event that has not followed Administrative Policy 371. 

· Adult visitors to school / school campus must follow Administrative Policy 860 Visitors to the Schools, which requires registering in the school office, or the greeter’s station. This is a requirement of all visitors to our schools / school campus during school hours, whether or not they are parents. 

· If students are interested in organizing student led activities, MHS staff are happy to work with them and will convey the district and school policies that govern activities. This, however, appears to be an event initiated by adults without approval by the school.

These policy concerns have been repeatedly conveyed to the group of parents organizing the "Jesus Lunches". Just two weeks ago, Steve Plank learned that the parents intended to continue the lunches starting today. We have been working actively with city officials to make sure we are on the same page with our understanding of this situation and our lease of Fireman’s Park. Steve Plank again asked the parents to cancel the event earlier this week in a telephone conversation that was to precede a scheduled meeting. The response was that they would not respect this request, and that they intended to move forward.

Instead of acknowledging and abiding by the District’s policies, the parents have threatened legal action against the District. The District disagrees with this position, and will continue its efforts to enforce its health, safety and welfare policies for events involving students. If you wish to refer to the policies referenced in this communication, you can access them on the MCPASD website at: http://www.mcpasd.k12.wi.us/our-district/about-district/policies-procedures

The parents contend that it is their First Amendment Right to provide free food and hold a religiously oriented event on this property during school hours. The District believes that we have jurisdiction of this leased property, which is part of our campus. We believe that religious or political events do not have a place in our school or on our campus, except when sponsored by a student group in accordance with our rules, which require prior approval. In addition, many students have conveyed to us their concern about a group offering free food to incentivize participation in a religious event on campus. The result of which has a divisive impact on our learning community. As such, we will continue to work with the parent group to find an amicable resolution. 

We hope that you find this background information helpful and look forward to getting back to our mission of educating all students.

Respectfully,

Dr. Stephen T. Plank, Principal 
Dr. Donald P. Johnson, Superintendent

 

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