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UPDATE | District responds to Woodward investigation, volunteers will no longer be used during lunchtime at WMS

The Bainbridge Island School District said the investigation into allegations that youth pastors were using their volunteer time at Woodward Middle School to spread their religious views has revealed "gaps" in the policies and procedures the school district uses to bring aboard volunteers.

In a press release following the release of an outside investigation into allegations of proselytizing by youth pastors at the school — which did not find evidence that youth pastors were using their volunteer positions at the school to share their religious beliefs with students — district officials said they have a plan in place to address the deficiencies.

One of the changes includes halting the use of non-paid lunchtime volunteers at Woodward Middle School. Officials also announced that policies for volunteers will be revised and updated.

The school board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3 to discuss the investigation.

District officials said they want to hear community input on next steps and solutions.

“This has been a very difficult situation for all parties involved,” said Superintendent Faith Chapel. “Our goal tonight is to find solutions together as a community.”

“The report sheds light on the fact that we have some gaps in our volunteer policies and procedures that caused some students and parents to feel uncomfortable and for that, we are sorry,” Chapel said. “We believe we have a clear plan in place that will address these community concerns and at the same time, continue to welcome volunteers in our schools.”

The board meeting will be held in the Commodore Commons.

The investigation was conducted by Tacoma attorney Shawn Ann Flood, and Flood said in her report that youth pastors volunteering in the lunchroom did not use their time and access to students to promote religion or convert students to their faith.

The investigation did note two exceptions, and also reported that youth pastors had, on occasion, invited some students to off-campus religious activities. One pastor invited students who were members of his church about upcoming services and youth group meetings, and gave students permission slips to student members of his church who wanted to attend events. Two other pastors interviewed said they had reminded students about upcoming activities if they were asked.

Flood said she could find no evidence of youth pastors "engaged in counseling or mentoring students at school."

District officials announced that changes to the volunteer program at Woodward would be implemented. Only paid staff at Woodward Middle School will be used during the lunch hour.

WMS is currently the only school that uses volunteers during the lunch hour.

The district will also revise and update its volunteer policies, procedures and handbook.

All schools will now use a common application and screening procedure for volunteers, and volunteers will have clearly defined roles and receive appropriate training.

The school board will review community comments and make any decisions on the volunteer program at the next regularly scheduled school board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 12, in the Commodore Commons.

The investigation report is available at http://www.bisd303.org/site/default.aspx?PageID=1.

 

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