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State legislators consider bills affecting schoolscomment (0)

March 29, 2012

By Sondra Washington

It is not uncommon for Alabama students to leave school campuses to pursue educational or vocational opportunities and receive course credits for these activities. At times, they are even released from school to attend religious events or programs. But at least one state representative would like to up the ante with legislation allowing students to receive elective credits for taking classes off campus at religious institutions. 

Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, said he got the idea for House Bill (HB) 133 from a man in his community who “wanted to pursue religious education classes off campus.” Galliher hopes this legislation will allow public school students to receive religious education for credit as many private school students do.

According to the bill, “the absence of an ability to award such credits has essentially eliminated the ability of a school district to accommodate the desires of parents and students to participate in released time programs.” HB 133 would authorize school boards to adopt policies for religious instruction.

Allowing elective credits for such classes would be “a wonderful opportunity for parents who want their children to have some religious instruction to be able to do that and still comply with the requirements of 

(See ‘Credit,’ page 4)

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courts,” according to Galliher.

State school Superintendent Thomas Bice disagrees with the idea of awarding elective credits to students for such activities.

“Students are currently released to participate in dual enrollment, early college enrollment and work-based learning experiences,” Bice said. “In each case, there is a course of study with defined standards followed for awarding credit. I support releasing students to attend religious events or celebrations specific to their individual faiths but could not support the awarding of credit, as this would cloud the separation of church and state.”

While preparing the bill, Galliher said he looked at several states’ policies on this matter including South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Idaho and California. He also considered a U.S. Supreme Court case, which the bill states “upheld the constitutionality of released time programs for religious instruction,” and a recent South Carolina court ruling approving elective credits for religious released time instruction.

“The issue is settled,” Galliher said. “It has already been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. You can do it. … There are still some (school) boards that have some trepidation about it. We live in a lawsuit world, so they like the clear, umbrella protection of law. We are trying to make sure they have the protection of statute.”

The bill passed from the House Education Policy Committee and is awaiting a third reading. 

It is also not uncommon for Alabama students to deal with bullies, and one state senator would like to rename legislation on the issue in honor of one such student. 

Senate Bill 32, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would change the name of the Student Harassment Prevention Act to the Alex Moore Anti-Bullying Act. Moore was a Jemison High School student who jumped to her death in 2010 after being bullied at school. 

The bill would require school employees to immediately report reliable information that someone is the target of harassment and calls for a student who has committed harassment for the third time in a school year to “be assigned to an alternative school.” It passed from the Senate Judiciary Committee and was placed on the calendar for a third reading.

Galliher filed a companion bill, HB41, in the House but said he would wait until the Senate bill passed and use it instead. Rep. Kurt Wallace, R-Maplesville, filed a similar bill, HB10, concerning bullying.

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