Public Schools

Pa. Parent Is Right To Be Wary Of Church’s Free Tutoring Program

  Rob Boston

A parent at the Pennridge School District in Bucks County, Pa., is suspicious of a tutoring program run by the First Baptist Church of Perkasie that the school system links to on its website. She has a right to be.

Laura Foster told WHYY radio that her daughter Camille needed some help with the evolution unit on the AP Biology exam. The free tutoring program, Re:vivals, was listed on the district’s website as a resource, so Foster got in touch to ask if they could be of assistance.

The reply Foster received surprised her. Re:vivals’ Donna Tindall told her they could help, but she made it clear the program would teach biology through a “biblical worldview… meaning that we believe that God created the world in six literal days.”

Tindall added, “Although we accept this through faith, there is evidence pointing in that direction. I think our tutor would welcome the opportunity to help [Camille] understand what is being presented and perhaps to examine the presuppositions as well as the supporting facts for both conclusions.”

Some obvious problems here: First, creationism is a religious belief, not a scientific one. The fact that Re:vivals wants to offer it – or any other type of instruction from a “biblical worldview” to public school students – is a sign that the church’s main goal is proselytizing, not secular education.

Secondly, a student who takes an AP Biology exam having been fed creationism in lieu of sound science is almost guaranteed to fail. That is exactly the opposite of what the school district should hope for.

Foster saw the problem right away, telling WHYY, “This is not an appropriate source for my child. It should not be listed as a tutoring service for any children for the district. Regardless if your kid’s going to college or not, we want to make sure that we’re providing them with the best foundation to succeed in life.”

The Re:vivals program is one among many different kinds of programs listed on the district’s website as community resources. But it is the only tutoring program listed there. And while Superintendent David Bolton said that the district offers other tutoring options, WHYY reported that Re:vivals is the only free tutoring service and the only one that supports Spanish-speaking students that is recommended by the district, which might make it a more attractive option for some parents.

Superintendent Bolton also said he had “spoken directly with Re:Vivals about the tutoring program before it began and [had] personally visited multiple times and [had] received feedback from multiple families who have used the service.”  That level of school-district involvement with the program is deeply troubling. As Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director of Americans United pointed out, “if the superintendent or other school officials are taking actions that communicate to parents or students that the school district does endorse or promote or approve the content of this particular religious program, then there would … be a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the separation of church and state.”

Luchenitser also noted, “If a program is presented as a tutoring program, but what it really turns into is a prayer program or spiritual counseling program or something that focuses on trying to get the children into the religious groups, then that presents serious concerns.”

Re:vivals’ flyer makes its intentions clear. The group exists, it says, “to bring hope and healing to the community through the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Based on what Tindall told Foster, it looks like this goal is more important than providing legitimate academic instruction.

It’s time for Bolton and other district officials to take a closer look at Re:vivals and ask whether it’s appropriate for a public school to funnel parents and their kids into what appears to be a recruitment effort for a Baptist church.

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