The Dawson County School System has been asked by an attorney to immediately end all ties to the Dawson County Christian Learning Center.
The Christian Learning Center (CLC) was scheduled to begin offering classes to Dawson County High School juniors and seniors this month.
School Superintendent Keith Porter said there are no ties to end.
Dawson County Christian Learning Center operates independently of the Dawson County School System, Porter said. The letter requests that we sever ties with the Dawson County Christian Learning Center, but in actuality, there are no ties or agreements in place.
In a letter dated Jan. 9 from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to attorney Phillip Hartley, who represents the Dawson County School System, the system is accused of having an unconstitutional relationship with the Christian Learning Center (CLC); of offering courses that are not accredited; of aiding an evangelical Christian education program, and of having no policy that allows school credit for the courses.
It is impossible for me to respond to the charge of an unconstitutional relationship between the school system and the Dawson County CLC when no agreement exists, Ported added. The Dawson County School System has done nothing wrong in this situation.
I am not aware of any action taken by Mr. Porter or the Board that could give rise to a lawsuit, he said. Since no action has been, I would agree with Mr. Porter.
After the Dawson News & Advertiser reported in October that Dawson County was set to begin offering Christian-based courses off-campus, for credit, starting this month, a Dawson County student contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Madison, Wis. FFRF staff attorney Patrick Elliot crafted a letter to Hartley.
According to Elliotts letter, . . . the Dawson County Christian Learning Center is not accredited. Dawson County schools are prevented by state law from accepting credit from an unaccredited organization.
Brooke Anderson, chair of the Dawson County CLC, said the courses will be accredited. No courses are currently available.
Other CLC board members include: Vice Chairman and newly elected State Rep. Kevin Tanner, Dolores Colon, Mark Cown, Shawn Dutcher, Russell Davis, Tod Keys and George Parson.
In order to offer courses, the Dawson County CLC must apply for accreditation through the Southern Association of College and Schools (SACS). Once an application is submitted to SACS, a provisional accreditation is extended to Dawson County CLC. They have up to two years to meet the standards set forth by SACS to gain accreditation. During that period, according to Anderson, courses can be offered.
Walton County CLC, which has accreditation from SACS, will mentor Dawson County through the process, Anderson said.
Jennifer Oliver, vice president for communications for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), was contacted for comment.
. . . We have no record on file of a request for a location in Dawson County or a request for accreditation to apply to any other programs, said Oliver in an email to the News & Advertiser.
She also said, the director will contact the head of the Walton County CLC and Mr. Anderson to clarify which programs are and are not accredited.
Anderson agreed with Porter, saying that the Dawson County CLC has no ties to county schools. The classes are offered off-campus and before school, he said. Classes are non-denominational and use no public funds.
We have no ties to Dawson County schools, he reiterated. We have not met with the school board. We have not asked them anything about CLC, nor do we need to. The school approves nothing. They execute nothing.
There is nothing unconstitutional about this, he said.
The Dawson County School System must follow state guidelines set forth in JBC(4) that say, Local boards of education shall accept student course credit earned in an accredited school. The school shall have been accredited or holding provisional status at the time the credit was earned.
Porter said that schools have clearly defined directives from the state.
It JBC(4) provides no flexibility in this matter, Porter said, and we have no control over the accreditation process for other schools or organizations. They must complete the process themselves. Our board does not vote on which courses are acceptable as JBC(4) provides the guidance on this matter.
The Christian Learning Center is a private entity, Anderson said.
We are not taxpayer funded, he said. We are doing what private entities are allowed to do.
Calls to Terri Butcher with the Walton County CLC were not returned. Its website, however, states that its program is SACS accredited with locations adjacent to three high schools in Walton County.
The website also says: Through CLC classes, students are taught Christian concepts like honoring parents and respecting authority at all levels, purity before marriage, developing trust-bond friendships, living a life of integrity, and being a leader like Moses, Esther, David, Joshua, Nehemiah and Paul.
Anderson said plans are moving forward to open the CLC in Dawson County.
Im not sure if it will be this year or next, but we are going to open it. he added.
Once the program is opened, the plan is to offer one course as an elective to juniors and seniors at Dawson County High School. Students must obtain parental permission to enroll in the program and must provide their own transportation. Three more courses are planned for later.
Anderson said people are spreading hate and fear.
We knew we would experience adversity with this, he said, but we also knew that Jesus overcame this world. This world hated him, and he overcame this world. And its by his will and grace that we will overcome this world, as well.