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Critic blasts school official's prayer

Chairwoman Patience Nave calls the attack, directed at her, unsettling. But the board's attorney says the Marion County man has a right to speak.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2001


INVERNESS -- The school and religion debate raged again on Tuesday before the School Board, beginning at the start of the meeting when board Chairwoman Patience Nave opened the session with a Christian prayer that she concluded with "I pray in the name of Jesus my savior."

Just moments later, Nave was the focus of some strong words from board critic Charles Schrader, the self-proclaimed pagan who has blasted the board for its prayer and related issues.

The Marion County man accused Nave of using her position to promote the fundamentalist Christian Coalition agenda rather than focusing on her job -- providing a public school education for the district's children.

"If no one has figured it out yet, the political fundamentalist bent of the chairperson and her disciples has little if anything to do with the love and the wisdom of the teacher and prophet from Nazareth, much less education," Schrader said.

"They use the name and the church of the man called Jesus to advance personal political ambitions and agenda," he said. "They'll stand on a corner and blather "I'm born again. Yes, all glory. Vote for me.' "

He criticized the upcoming public workshop on the prayer and religion issues as Nave's push for a public prayer meeting and urged the entire board to return to discussion of education issues.

"Tonight we continue with the my-God-is-greater-than-your-God p---ing contest, a stupid and idiotic exercise with no winners, leaving our kids the losers," Schrader said.

The comments left Nave somewhat shaken and she commented that Schrader's attack had been "unsettling."

Area resident Don Bates later asked the board to limit the right of non-county residents to speak to the board, although School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick said they could not do that.

"He has a legal right to come before the board . . . and say his piece," Fitzpatrick said.

School district employee D.J. Bryan reminded the board that this is the Bible belt and blamed the ongoing debate on media coverage of the issues. She urged the media to ignore the ongoing issues.

The religion in school issue will get more discussion at a workshop at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Forest Ridge Elementary School.

There, the board will likely discuss a proposed policy that would specify when student clubs can meet. Meetings could be held before or after school or during specified activity periods under the written proposal presented to board members several days ago. Those periods would be announced ahead of time, giving all clubs the chance to meet during that period.

Students not attending club activities during that time would attend a monitored free or study time period but would not be in class.

That has become the main sticking point in the ongoing debate over a Fellowship of Christian Athletes party just before the Christmas break. On that day, students who were not involved in the FCA event were in class. That has prompted some critics to say that the school had actually sponsored a religious activity.

School officials have maintained that they have followed the law.

Board member Carol Snyder, who had raised the religion issues, reiterated her stand Tuesday. "I have never asked nor ever sought to have the FCA abandoned. . . . My question was the appropriateness of that particular event at that particular time."

In other action:

Six students expelled: In a closed session, the board expelled six students for violations of the district's zero tolerance policy toward controlled substances and alcohol. Three male Lecanto students -- one male and one female Crystal River student and one male Citrus student -- were expelled. Tuesday's actions bring the total number of expulsions for the current school year to 32.

Assistant principal appointed: The board appointed Judy Johnson as assistant principal at Crystal River Middle School. She replaces Gina Hodges, who is now the school's principal.

Dual enrollment approved: The board approved a dual enrollment agreement between the county's high schools and Withlacoochee Technical Institute. The plan will allow high school students to enroll in adult programs if they pass certain criteria. Their classes will count both toward their high school diploma and toward their associate's degree in certain programs at Central Florida Community College.

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