Barrow schools consider offering Bible-based courses

WINDER - Barrow County schools are one step closer to offering Bible based elective courses as part of their public school curriculum.

School board members voted to create a committee of 15 to 20 parents, teachers, students and community members to explore the details of implementing those courses, possibly by fall 2008.

If approved, students will study literary style, structure of culture, customs, law, government, history, art, language and music of the Old and New Testaments.

"The committee will look at the courses, cost and what we will teach," said Dr. Ron Saunders, Barrow County School superintendent. "We want to get input from the community on what they would like to see while staying within academic guidelines and not proselytizing."

The courses would be taught by teachers certified to teach history or language arts. The study committee will work to ensure the classes meet federal regulations, according to Chairman Bill Bramlett.

"It's not going to be like a Sunday School set up," Saunders said. "We're not bringing in a preacher."

Seventh-graders taking the world studies class learn what Islam is, Saunders added.

Results of a survey determining student and teacher interest in proposed Bible history and literature courses were released in March.

Of the 3,200 students surveyed in Apalachee and Winder-Barrow High Schools, slightly less than half, 1,499, expressed interest in taking courses in literature and history of the Old and New Testament eras, as opposed to 1,717 who said they had no interest in the classes.

Board members Lynn Stevens and Connie Wehunt voted against the proposal that Bramlett earlier called "a potential hot potato."

"I don't want to put this in the school system the way it is lined up," Wehunt said. "I could not comfortably vote to get it started."

Winder-Barrow High School Principal Rob Johnson, the son of a Methodist minister, said it would be all right with him if the school offered Bible-based courses.

"As long a we make sure we don't go off in a direction without guidance," Johnson said. "I'm looking forward to it."

School board officials are already looking at one or two textbooks, Saunders said.

Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, has supported the legislation since 1999.

"It has always been legal to teach Bible as history and literature in public schools, but it was never taught because it was not funded," Williams said.

The Georgia Legislature passed a 2006 law authorizing state-funded courses on the Bible to be offered in public schools.

The state Board of Education voted in March to adopt the classes, leaving it

up to each school district to decide whether to offer the courses.