MUSKINGUM COUNTY, Ohio – Muskingum County Commissioners heard from a LifeWise Academy representative today regarding the potential of implementing ‘Bible Based Character Education’ in Muskingum County Schools.
LifeWise Academy is a Released Time Religious Instruction program for students K-12 that hopes to implement character education teachings within the Christian Bible. The proposed program would have public school students be released during the school day to attend religious classes. The program is in accordance with federal legislation, provided the program is off school property, privately funded, and parent-permitted.
The program itself was founded in Van Wert, Ohio – and through the support of Lieutenant Governor Hustead – has been implemented in 27 different counties. The program is being offered in elementary schools in both Duncan Falls and Roseville this fall, with parents having the chance to opt their children either in or out of the program. In both school systems, students will utilize the period designated for Art, Music, and PE – to leave the building and attend a character development class based on the Christian Faith at a nearby church building.
Gary Phipps, a volunteer and representative that addressed the commissioners spoke with WHIZ about why the organization is looking to work with Muskingum County Schools.
“We don’t have anything like that in this county at all – there is nothing like that. So is it something the county needs? Well, if it does improve student performance, student attendance, and teacher relationships with the students – if it improves that, why would we not want to do it?”
The Supreme Court decision Zorach v. Clauson in 1952 solidified the legality of a “released time” policy that permitted public school children to leave campus during school hours to attend religious instruction and services. Justice William O. Douglas found that the policy violated neither the free exercise nor establishment clause of the First Amendment. LifeWise states that since its educational services are off school property, it follows all applicable legislation regarding teaching religion in school systems.
The LifeWise curriculum covers the entirety of the Bible’s scriptures over five years – in an effort to teach Christian values in a non-denominational format. The organization is a privately funded non-profit and 501(c)3 – relying entirely on sponsors and donations from the community. The sponsorship and donations go into paying the estimated $70,000 needed to run the local academy. The funds go to salaries for the educators, supplies, transportation, and facilities.
While the meeting was not an official step towards implementation, LifeWise hopes to establish itself on local officials’ radar as an option for schools in the near future.
Phipps spoke about LifeWise’s motive to give students in Muskingum County the chance to build their characters through their program.
“If I give you something – like if I were to give you gentleness – it doesn’t cost me anything. You gain, and I gain because I get to feel good that I gave it to you.”
A full copy of the meeting minutes and the conversation between the County Commissioners and LifeWise can be found on the County Commissioner’s website.