From: STATE SUPERINTENDENT
Sent: Friday, February 21, 2003 2:24 PM
To: 'Regional Superintendents and Special Education Directors District Superintendents '
Subject: Weekly Message from State Superintendent Robert Schiller 2-21-03

 

 

Good Afternoon.   This has been an extraordinarily busy week with the regular State Board meeting and State Board presentations before four legislative committees.  In addition to updating you on those events, today’s message includes two important administrative alerts, brief comments on several other topics and, at the end, a fairly lengthy description of the recent federal guidance on Constitutionally protected prayer.

 

 

Administrative Alerts

 

 

Legislative presentations

 

Chairman Gidwitz and I had an opportunity this week to make formal remarks to the Senate Executive Committee, the Senate Education Committee, and I also appeared before the House Elementary and Secondary Appropriations Committee.  Those remarks can be accessed on the State Board home page (http://www.isbe.net/) and I urge you to read them to understand the positions we are taking on school finance and related issues. 

 

In summary, we advised committee members that the precarious financial condition of Illinois school districts restricts their ability to meet our Constitutional obligation to students and makes it probable that the State will not be able to reach NCLB goals.  We urged them, as we will do in each presentation, to make education the priority in the state budget.

 

In addition, we spoke in support of a number of specific programs and positions as well as several of the EFAB recommendations.  This included SB 1 which would reinstate the continuing appropriation for education funding.  Again, I encourage you to review those comments for their specific recommendations.

 

On Thursday, I met with the House Education Committee to discuss the No Child Left Behind Act and its implications for Illinois.  The powerpoint presentation for that discussion will be on the State Board website soon.

 

All of our discussions with members of the General Assembly are enhanced when we are able to give specific examples of challenges faced by local districts.  Therefore, we would appreciate your sharing with us any circumstances in your district that we could in turn share with the legislators.  We also hope that you will take every opportunity to support our call for education as the priority in this difficult budget year.

 

Reminder: the House Appropriations Committee will hold another in its series of hearings on school finance issues next Wednesday at 2:00 p.m.  The focus of this discussion will be categorical funding.

 

State Board decisions on NCLB accountability issues

 

On Wednesday, the State Board approved the recommendations of the Assessment and Accountability Task Force regarding NCLB accountability.  The decisions included the following:

 

 

For additional information about these decisions and the approved recommendations regarding the IMAGE assessment, see the press release at http:/www.isbe.net/news/2003/feb19-03.htm.

 

State Board officers and committees

 

The State Board Bylaws require election of the Board Vice-Chair and Secretary every two years.  The elections held yesterday resulted in the selection of Bev Turkal of Robinson as Vice-Chair and Dick Sandsmark of Belvidere as Secretary.

 

Chairman Gidwitz appointed the following Board members as committee chairs:

 

            Board Operations Committee – Janet Steiner

            Education Policy/Planning Committee – Marjorie Branch

            Finance and Audit Committee – Dick Sandsmark

            Governmental Relations – Bev Turkal

 

Janet Steiner will join Chairman Gidwitz as State Board members on the Joint Education Committee.  Greg Kazarian will serve as the alternate to that committee.

 

Appointment of Interim Certification Board Secretary

 

In response to the imminent retirement of Rob Sampson, Secretary to the State Teacher Certification Board since 1997, the State Board appointed Dennis Williams to serve as Interim Secretary.  Dennis is the Division Administrator for Certificate Renewal and Leadership. 

 

Education License Plate

 

The State of Illinois is offering a new education license plate.  Money raised from the plate will be deposited into a special fund called the Illinois Future Teacher Corps Scholarship Fund.  The fund will be used primarily to provide scholarship money to fulltime undergraduate and graduate students pursuing their teacher certification in Illinois. A portion of the fund will be appropriated to the State Board of Education for grants to the Golden Apple Foundation, which recruits, prepares and mentors new teachers.

 

The new education plate will cost $118 for the initial purchase ($40 plus the standard $78 registration fee), $25 of which will be deposited in the Education Fund.  License plate production will begin once 850 Illinois motorists sign up.

 

To sign up for the plate with the Secretary of State’s office, go online at www.cyberdriveillinois.com or call 217/558-6148.

 

Cairo Financial Oversight Panel Appointments

 

Three good citizens have accepted my request that they serve on the new Financial Oversight Panel for Cairo School District 1.  They are Jack D. Hill, President Emeritus of Shawnee Community College in Ullin who will serve as chairman of the Panel, David Hindman, retired superintendent of Herrin School District 4, and Samuel Harbin, former superintendent of Meridian School District in Mounds.  I am grateful for their willingness to serve in this challenging position.

 

 

Constitutionally protected prayer

 

Guidance was issued last week by the U.S. Department of Education regarding constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools. It is located on the agency web site at: http://www.ed.gov/inits/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html.

I suggest you read the guidance for several reasons.  One reason is that you and your district need to know about these parameters.  The second reason is that for 2002-03 and 2003-04 and thereafter you will need to sign assurances that this process is in place in your school district.

Section 9524 of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires that, as a condition of receiving ESEA funds, a district must certify in writing to its State educational agency ("SEA") that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as set forth in this guidance.

The purpose of the federal guidance is to provide SEAs, districts, and the public with information on the current state of the law concerning constitutionally protected prayer in the public schools, and to clarify the extent to which prayer in public schools is legally protected. This guidance also sets forth responsibilities with respect to Section 9524 of the ESEA.  The guidance will be updated on a biennial basis, beginning in September 2004.

Certification Process

In order to receive funds under the ESEA, a district must certify in writing to its SEA that no policy of the LEA prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools as set forth in this guidance.  While the original date for submitting this certification was October 1, 2002, it was conditioned on states receiving federal guidance last summer.  Given that the federal guidance came last week, the initial certification must be provided by a district to ISBE by March 15, 2003.  ISBE will inform USDE in turn of those districts that have not filed the required certification or against which complaints have been made to ISBE that the district is not in compliance with this guidance.  This list is due to USDE by April 15, 2003 now.

Districts are required to file the certification as a condition of receiving funds under the ESEA.  If a district fails to file the required certification, or files it in bad faith, ISBE is to ensure compliance in accordance with its regular enforcement procedures. The Secretary considers a district to have filed a certification in bad faith if the district files the certification even though it has a policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools as set forth in this guidance.  The required certification/assurance document will be sent to you early next week.  I would ask that you complete it and send it back through the ROEs/ISCs by the date stated.  They in turn will aggregate data and return it to ISBE.

Detailed Guidance

The guidance on the web site lists the full information.  Here are a few chosen excerpts for your consideration until such time as you read the full document.

Prayer During Non-instructional Time

Students may pray when not engaged in school activities or instruction, subject to the same rules designed to prevent material disruption of the educational program that are applied to other privately initiated expressive activities. Among other things, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other non-instructional time to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious activities. While school authorities may impose rules of order and pedagogical restrictions on student activities, they may not discriminate against student prayer or religious speech in applying such rules and restrictions.

Organized Prayer Groups and Activities

Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and "see you at the pole" gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups. Such groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other non-curricular groups, without discrimination because of the religious content of their expression. School authorities possess substantial discretion concerning whether to permit the use of school media for student advertising or announcements regarding non-curricular activities. However, where student groups that meet for nonreligious activities are permitted to advertise or announce their meetings—for example, by advertising in a student newspaper, making announcements on a student activities bulletin board or public address system, or handing out leaflets—school authorities may not discriminate against groups who meet to pray. School authorities may disclaim sponsorship of non-curricular groups and events, provided they administer such disclaimers in a manner that neither favors nor disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or religious speech.

Teachers, Administrators, and other School Employees

When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities. Before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities. Similarly, teachers may participate in their personal capacities in privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies.

Moments of Silence

If a school has a "minute of silence" or other quiet periods during the school day, students are free to pray silently, or not to pray, during these periods of time. Teachers and other school employees may neither encourage nor discourage students from praying during such time periods.

Accommodation of Prayer During Instructional Time

It has long been established that schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation in such instruction or penalize students for attending or not attending. Similarly, schools may excuse students from class to remove a significant burden on their religious exercise, where doing so would not impose material burdens on other students. For example, it would be lawful for schools to excuse Muslim students briefly from class to enable them to fulfill their religious obligations to pray during Ramadan.

Where school officials have a practice of excusing students from class on the basis of parents' requests for accommodation of nonreligious needs, religiously motivated requests for excusal may not be accorded less favorable treatment. In addition, in some circumstances, based on federal or state constitutional law or pursuant to state statutes, schools may be required to make accommodations that relieve substantial burdens on students' religious exercise. Schools officials are therefore encouraged to consult with their attorneys regarding such obligations.

Religious Expression and Prayer in Class Assignments

Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school. Thus, if a teacher's assignment involves writing a poem, the work of a student who submits a poem in the form of a prayer (for example, a psalm) should be judged on the basis of academic standards (such as literary quality) and neither penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content.

Student Assemblies and Extracurricular Events

Student speakers at student assemblies and extracurricular activities such as sporting events may not be selected on a basis that either favors or disfavors religious speech. Where student speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content. By contrast, where school officials determine or substantially control the content of what is expressed, such speech is attributable to the school and may not include prayer or other specifically religious (or anti-religious) content. To avoid any mistaken perception that a school endorses student speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may make appropriate, neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech (whether religious or nonreligious) is the speaker's and not the school's.

 

Robert Schiller

State Superintendent

  of Education

statesup@isbe.net