Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

USD 450 Board Tables Decision Allowing Church to Use School Property

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

USD 450 Board Tables Decision Allowing Church to Use School Property

Article excerpt

Members of the Shawnee Heights Unified School District 450 Monday tabled a decision to allow a Topeka-area church from using space in Shawnee Heights Elementary School for weekly worship services.

Jeremy Hall, pastor of the Restoration Church, had made the request for his estimated 35-member congregation to use the school's community room, classroom and conference for three hours on Sunday mornings during the school year at a cost to be determined by the district.

"We've not done this before," Stessman told board members, indicating that USD 450 and other Shawnee County school districts aren't allowing churches to use building space.

"We're really interested in the community and we're getting involved in the community," Hall told board members. "It seems like the perfect location."

Of the current members of the church, Hall said about half are USD 450 families or are families hoping to move into the area. He said he would like to eventually establish after-school programs and a food program as part of Restoration Church's mission.

"It's good to see that you're trying to bring more activity to the Shawnee Heights area," board member Eric Deitcher told Hall.

Board member Rusty Doty asked whether granting the request would be a "separation of church and state" issue and whether the district would have to grant a facility request to a potential "fringe" group in the future, if Hall's request is approved.

"I have reservations about going down this path," he said. "It's a difficult decision for me to go down this path."

"How do we as a board determine who gets the space and who doesn't?" asked board member Lauren Tice Miller.

Board members voted to table the matter until more hard costs related to utilities and maintenance can be determined and to allow for more consideration.

"It does set a precedent," Stessman said. "If you open it to a community group, you'd have to open it to other community groups. It's a substantial investment of time and resources."

In other business Monday, board members approved a set of Kansas Association of School Boards policies that includes a new policy prohibiting students, staff and board members from using recording devices without the knowledge of the person being recorded. …

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