For many years, the Teutopolis Grade School has been held in a facility owned by the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Parish of Teutopolis. The parish holds religious classes in the building each weekday morning during the school year, beginning approximately an hour before regular The School District buses were used each day to transport all grade school students to school in time for the religious classes – there was no later bus option for students who did not attend the religious classes. The students gathered at the cafeteria, where school personnel escorted nearly all students to their religious classes. The few students not attending those classes were left behind for unstructured play or study time in the gymnasium, cafeteria, or playground. The ACLU of Illinois expressed concern to the school that the school’s active facilitation of the religious classes through its bus schedule, the participation of school employees in physically separating students according to their religious class attendance, and the Parish’s exclusive access to the students violated the First Amendment.
In response to the ACLU’s concerns, the School District has entered into an agreement under which school buses will be scheduled around school classes, not religious classes, arriving at school just 15 minutes before the start of the school day. The agreement also establishes an after-school activity period that will be open to a range of after-school activities sponsored by outside organizations – in which the Parish is free to take part on an equal basis. These changes will take effect at the beginning of the next school year in fall 2016.
The following statement on this matter can be attributed to Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois:
We are pleased that the District has worked to address the concerns raised by their practice. Together, we have reached a resolution that that protects students from being stigmatized or excluded simply because their family is not of the majority faith. At the same time, the agreement protects parents’ ability to choose extracurricular activities consistent with their families’ faith and other beliefs. When government practices favor one particular religious group, the religious liberty of everyone is diminished. By eliminating such favoritism, this agreement promotes the interests and needs of all Teutopolis Grade School students. The result is equal access for all extracurricular activities, including religious activities, at Teutopolis Grade School, without governmental promotion of religion. This is a good result.