Philly’s Education CEO Encourages Faith Connection in Students’ Lives

The head of Philadelphia's public schools is defending his efforts to forge closer ties with faith-based groups in the city. He says religious leaders can help with tutoring, mentoring, counseling, and organizing faith-based clubs — and can do so without violating the Constitution.

In May, Paul Vallas invited churches to start gospel choirs and prayer clubs. Last year, the district sponsored a back-to-school meeting with speeches and prayers by clergy. The Anti-Defamation League and Americans United for Separation of Church and State claim the ties could be illegal.

But the CEO for the School District of Philadelphia says he will keep working with faith-based groups as long as Philadelphia's schools are plagued by violence and other behavioral problems.

“As long as our students are being killed in the streets or pursued by drug dealers — as long as we have problems of bad behavior and bullying and intimidation within our schools — as long as our students go to school in sometimes very violent communities, I'm going to be seeking support of those organizations that can provide the greatest support of services to our kids.”

Religious groups, the educator maintains, can connect students in the Philadelphia school district to the community service projects they are required to perform in order to graduate. And Vallas says voluntary activities led by ministers, rabbis, and other clergy members are perfectly constitutional.

“There is nothing preventing faith-based institutions from organizing faith-based clubs or prayer clubs or after-school Bible clubs or, for that matter, gospel choirs — and for students to participate in those activities,” he says, “as long as they participate voluntarily and as long as they are an after-school, extended-day activity.”

Pennsylvania law allows students to be released from school 36 hours a year for purposes of practicing their faith or taking part in faith-based activities.

Prior to coming to Philadelphia, Vallas served as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. During his six-year tenure there, he transformed the nation's third largest school system from what was thought of as “the worst in the country” to “a model for the nation.”

(This article courtesy of Agape Press).

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