MCPS rejects graduation site

Oct. 8, 2006, midnight | By Marie Mencher | 17 years, 8 months ago

Board of Education fears constitutional repercussions

The PTSA is planning to take legal action in a final push to move Blair's graduation ceremony back to Jericho City of Praise after the Board of Education rejected the church as a commencement site on Aug. 26.

Gene Schaerr, an attorney from the law firm Winston and Stawn, will represent the PTSA pro bono to appeal the Board's decision, according to Miriam Szapiro, a Blair parent who led the PTSA's efforts to restore use of Jericho.

Blair held graduation ceremonies at Jericho between 2003 and 2005, but MCPS prohibited Blair from using the 10,000-seat church in 2006 after a small group unaffiliated with Blair complained to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, according to former PTSA Co-President Fran Rothstein. Last year's commencement was moved to the Prince George's Equestrian Center.

For the past year and a half, the PTSA fought to keep Jericho as a graduation site. On June 14, the group sent a letter asking Donald Kress, MCPS chief school performance officer, to approve the use of the site after some parents were dissatisfied with the ceremony at the Prince George's Equestrian Center last spring. The PTSA cited Jericho's convenience, low cost and superior seating capacity as reasons to resume use of the church.

In its Aug. 26 letter of rejection, the Board of Education argued that there was an "implicit challenge in 2005 from Americans United for Separation of Church and State," which "obviously foreshadows the likelihood of litigation." The school board also noted the conspicuous religious symbols at Jericho that the church refused to curtain off, including a stained glass panel depicting religious icons and a religious inscription.

Blair was offered use of the Jericho facilities for free, but still paid a small contribution. The Comcast Center, another site available to Blair, would cost over $28,000. "We really don't have that kind of money," said Dave Ottalini, PTSA co-president.

Although the PTSA has reserved the Equestrian Center for the graduation of the class of 2007, they still do not have enough money to pay for the facility, PTSA Co-President Deborah Stoll said. The cost is well over the $2,000 allocated by MCPS for high school graduations.

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Marie Mencher. Marie is anxiously thrilled to be on the Silver Chips staff. She is having a sleeplessly great time covering stories with actual relevance, but nonetheless would like a little more time to do the other things she loves, like being assistant drum major of the … More »

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