CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) - Should religious leaders be allowed to visit your kids at school? That debate is now happening at the Conway School District after complaints about youth pastors spending time with kids during lunch.
For now, the district is putting a temporary stop to visitors like religious leaders to their schools while school leaders evaluate its policy. All of this wassparked by some complaints from Conway parents to a Wisconsin-based organization called theFreedom From Religion Foundation.
Conway parent Marsha Kelley recalled a pastor visiting her daughter's school for lunch last year at Carl Stuart Middle School, and she was fine with that.
"I'm a real strong Catholic, and I just thought that was something that was good for my daughter to see especially," Kelley said.
"It's a place of school and they are here to learn and I understand you want to save the world but leave school alone," parent Karen Collins disagreed.
Youth pastors have been allowed to visit with students at lunch at Carl Stuart Middle and Ruth Doyle Intermediate School.
"If you look at the overall context of why they are there and it being a recurring practice, it certainly seems to be to advance their religious mission and to use public grounds for that. I think is a big problem," said Attorney Patrick Elliott.
Patrick Elliott represents the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He said that two concerned parents contacted them, not the school district, about these visits.
"One of the problems with this, too, is that parents don't know what's being said to their middle school students," Elliott said.
"What we're going to do is take a look at the policies, and make sure the policies are neutral, that the policies on their face are constitutional," Attorney Jeff Mateer said.
Jeff Mateer is with the Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal group from Texas is working with the district on its visitor rules.
"I think in talking to the superintendent, he was encouraged thatwe were there and willing to assist him with that," Mateer said.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation said they've heard reports from one parent who said a youth pastor approached a child who was not part of their group.
But, Conway School Board President Susan McNabb tells THV 11 News, it's her understanding, that the visiting groups, like Conway K-Life, are not there recruiting new members at lunch; they're just talking to their own.
Superintendent Greg Murray would only refer us to a statement from the Liberty Institute.
THV 11 also found out that the legal group working with the district is doing it for free. As for the Wisconsin foundation raising the issue, THV 11 was told they have more than 100 members in Arkansas and it was some of them who shared their concerns.