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Investigation into Woodward volunteers says volunteer pastors did not share their religious beliefs with students

An investigation by an outside attorney has found that youth pastors who were volunteers at Woodward Middle School did not try to proselytize during their lunchtime visits with children.

The Bainbridge Island School District launched a probe in October into allegations that volunteers at the middle school were sharing their religious beliefs with students and proselytizing during their lunchtime visits with children.

The district hired Shawn Flood, an attorney with the Tacoma law firm of Kampbell, Andrews & Arbenz, to look into the allegations. The investigation reviewed the process used to allow community members to become volunteers at Woodward, as well as what kinds of interactions had occurred between volunteers at the school and students.

Flood did not mention the youth pastors by name in her investigative report, which was dated Nov. 27 and released by the school district on Dec. 3.

"I find that on the whole, youth pastors volunteering in the lunchroom did not use their time and access to students to promote religion or convert students to their faith. I find no evidence that Youth Pastors engaged in prayer with students, blessings over meals, bible study, distribution of bibles or religious literature, discussions about God or Jesus, or preaching in general," Flood wrote.

Flood said there were two exceptions, however.

"In one incident, Youth Pastor A acknowledged to me that he was approached by a student with religious questions. The student was a member of his church. The pastor sat with the student out of earshot of other students and answered his religious questions," Flood reported.

"In the second incident, a student reported to me that he was new to the school this school year and while sitting alone at a lunch table waiting for other students to join him, a youth pastor approached him and they introduced themselves and talked a bit. The pastor ended the brief conversation by telling the student he could find him if he ever wanted to talk about religion. No such substantive religious discussion later occurred," Flood wrote.

The Bainbridge Island School Board will hold a special study session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3 to talk about the results of the investigation.

School officials had said earlier that they had not received any reports of volunteers proselytizing or recruiting students on campus before concerned parents packed a school board meeting in mid-October and shared their worries over volunteers.

 

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