Con-Should MCPS allow AP testing in churches?

March 25, 2007, midnight | By Sarah Kinter | 15 years, 8 months ago

Sarah Kinter says NO: MCPS should follow Jericho precedent

Superintendent Jerry Weast clearly did not want Blair's graduation to be held in a church, so much that he was willing to foot the $125,000 bill for all MCPS high school graduation ceremonies. But his rationale for the bold move is hardly as clear.

His reasoning could be principled — signaling a genuine devotion to protecting the separation of church and state. Or it could have been practical — buckling under the threat of a First Amendment lawsuit.

Either way, the debate over this issue could begin anew a month before graduation — in May, over 700 Blazers will take AP exams at Christ Congregational Church. The testing location is as blatantly a violation of the First Amendment as is holding graduation in a church.

The religious environment at Christ Congregational can be distracting and even offensive to students trying to concentrate on their tests. Last year, loud organ hymnals could be heard from the church basement, where students were in the middle of taking exams. The Constitution protects students' rights to a secular scholastic environment — and they deserve a quiet place to test, too.

If MCPS is serious about upholding the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, it should do so consistently by restricting AP testing to secular venues.

MCPS must put its morals where its money is. With the recent allocation of $125,000 to pay for all high school graduation ceremonies this year and $200,000 for next year's graduations, MCPS has dedicated its funds, and therefore its principles, to preserving the separation of church and state. The county should therefore adhere to its own precedent by banning AP testing in religious facilities for the entire school system.

Blair is not the only school that administers tests in a religious building. Magruder holds its AP exams at Redland Baptist Church, while the students who don't fit in Wootton's gymnasium take their tests at a local church. MCPS needs to identify appropriations, similar to the funds designated for graduations, to relocate testing to secular facilities.

Otherwise MCPS faces the renewed threat of lawsuits from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State or similar interest groups. In the long run, it will be money better spent to make sure all testing centers are secular locations rather than bleeding even more money to legal fees.

MCPS finally has a chance to both protect the constitutional separation of church and state and protect the school system from lawsuits. If Weast's decision was principled, he should act again to uphold those principles consistently. If his decision was practical, he should act to preempt more threats of litigation. In either case, all AP testing should be moved to secular venues.

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