Teachers complained of being compelled to participate in prayer session before SOL test.

Superintendent tells ACLU he will look into allegations and take corrective action.

Norfolk, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today asked the Superintendent of Norfolk City Schools to launch an investigation into complaints from teachers at Oakwood Elementary School, who claim they were told by Principal Sheila Tillett Holas to hold hands and pray before the Standards of Learning exam was given to students in February.
Teachers also complained that Holas had invited her pastor to school to give sermons and conduct prayer sessions, and that she prayed with students before tests.
“Holas has a constitutional right to be as religious as she wants in her private life,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director, “but if she is requiring teachers to pray or organizing prayers with students on the job, she is seriously interfering with the religious rights of others.”
According to the Virginian-Pilot, the teachers complained to the State Department of Education, which then forwarded the allegations to the Norfolk School Division.
“These are serious allegations that, if true, defy fifty years of Supreme Court rulings carefully crafted to balance the right of students and teachers to express their religious beliefs in school with their right to be free of any kind of religious coercion,” added Willis.
“We will be the first organization to protect the right of students to pray individually or to organize religious clubs under school rules,” said Willis, “but no school official is allowed to arrange or lead prayers in a public school.”
In her letter faxed earlier today to Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Stephen C. Jones, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg asked for an “investigation into all instances of students or teachers being subjected to inappropriate religious pressure, and to make the results of the investigation public.”  A link to Glenberg’s complete letter to Jones can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/20100330NorfolkSchoolPrayerLtr.pdf
Jones subsequently told Glenberg that he would be looking into the matter and that he would take any corrective action necessary.
“We are reassured by the superintendent’s prompt response to our letter and now await the outcome of his inquiries,” said Glenberg.
Contact: Kent Willis, 804-644-8022