Miami East considers release-time religious instruction

By Matt Clevenger

For the Miami Valley Today

CASSTOWN — Members of the Miami East Local Schools Board of Education are considering the addition of release-time religious instruction, responding to input from a group of parents and community members who spoke at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, April 18.

“Our team has collected almost 200 signatures from the community,” parent Lindsey Taylor said. “Several of us have formed a local steering committee to begin talking through some of the logistical details of how a program like this would run.”

“I’m here this evening to ask the board to consider allowing our community to utilize the release-time religious instruction policy that we have for Miami East,” Taylor said.

A group of approximately 10-15 parents and community members attended Monday’s board meeting in support of Lifewise Academy. Miami East school board members are planning to tour Newton Local Schools’ Lifewise Academy program next Tuesday, April 26.

Lifewise Academy offers a Bible-based program, allowing students to leave school grounds for religious instruction several times per week. Students are transported off school grounds, then return to school and finish their day normally.

“Lifewise keeps things legal, simple and practical,” parent Alicia Barlow said. “The Lifewise curriculum focuses on the central messages of the Bible; they avoid getting bogged-down with the finer points of religious doctrine. They focus on the fundamental themes that speak to the issues common to all people.”

School districts in Arcanum, Greenville and Northridge are already planning to offer Lifewise Academy programs this fall. “Currently there are 34 programs across 27 school districts where the program is being offered during the day,” Taylor said. “This fall, there will be an additional 36 communities that will be starting the same program.”

“It’s getting there,” board vice-president John Demmitt said of a program at Miami East. “I think we’ve had good dialogue; there are other considerations, with the logistics.”

“I’m very much looking forward to Tuesday, and then continuing the conversation,” board member Amanda Howell said.

“I think everyone’s hearts are in the right place,” board president Mark Iiames said. “I do have questions, but I need to take the time to get educated on it.”

In other business, board members also approved a contract with H.A. Dorsten for the construction of a new wing of classrooms at the Junior High School.

“The recommended contract is below our estimate,” Iiames said. “This is the second round of classrooms that we’ve built out of our general fund, without additional tax dollars being requested. This should set the stage for us for many, many years to come.”

Board members also approved a contract with Weiffenbach Marble & Tile for replacement of aging carpet at the elementary school.

“This will do 20 of the elementary classrooms during the months of June and July, replacing carpet that hasn’t been replaced in 18 years,” Superintendent Dr. Todd Rappold said.

Board members went on to approve an out-of-town trip to Sleepy Eye, Minnesota for FFA members May 31 through June 2, and voted to accept a letter of resignation from girls’ varsity basketball coach Bruce Vanover. Board members Pam Rice and Mark Lawson voted against accepting Vanover’s resignation.

Board members also announced that the Miami East Alumni Association banquet has been canceled this year, although the association will still sponsor scholarships for Miami East students. Board members also announced the Plastic for a Purpose program, which will collect plastic caps and lids to be recycled into benches for the district’s landlab.

“The elementary PTO and our landlab Trailblazers group are collecting plastic lids and caps,” Rappold said. “They did this two years ago and got several buddy benches that were created from those caps and lids.”

“They recycle those plastic lids into very durable plastic benches,” Rappold said. “We’re very appreciative of the elementary PTO and the landlab Trailblazers group heading up that project.”

Board members also announced the addition of extra counselors for the 2022-2023 school year. “We will have four full-time counselors on our campus again for the 2022-2023 school year,” Rappold said. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had four.”

Board members also heard an update on the district’s search for a replacement school nurse. “Premier Health stepped up, and they have been filling in for us for the remainder of the school year,” Rappold said. “They were able to provide nurses to fill that vacancy. If not, we would have been left in the lurch so we’re very appreciative of Premier being able to help us out.”

Board members’ next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at Miami East High School on Monday, May 16 at 7 p.m.