Schools reopen in less than a month, and local superintendents still haven't received guidance from the state on how to implement new laws that require public schools to offer Bible study and religious history courses for grades 6-12.
“Most of our students made their class schedules in February, and so far no student has requested a class about the Bible,” said Decatur Superintendent Michael Douglas.
Superintendents Bill Hopkins Jr. of Morgan County and Dee Dee Jones of Hartselle said they also do not have any student requests for classes related to the new Alabama laws.
Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, sponsored a bill that allows students, at their own expense, to take religious courses off campus during the school day and earn elective credit. Students have to provide their transportation to and from the class.
A second bill, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, requires school systems to make available elective social studies courses on the Bible.
He said school districts have always been able to teach the history of the Bible, but some feared lawsuits.
“This bill puts it into law,” Melson said.
The Alabama State Department of Education is required to develop guidelines and courses in four possible areas: Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament of the Bible; Greek Scriptures of the New Testament of the Bible; a course combining the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament and the Greek Scriptures of the New Testament; and religious history.
The communications office in the Department of Education was not available Friday, and Melson said he was not sure if the guidelines have been established.
“We are aware of the laws and are waiting on the guidelines,” Hopkins said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama did not return calls seeking comment, but before the bills became law, ACLU Executive Director Randall Marshall released a written statement.
He called them a waste of money and said they're potentially unconstitutional.
“This is hardly the solution that public schools and their students need to improve their education, and it will instead set up schools to spend extra money on training teachers to teach these courses in a constitutionally appropriate manner, and if not, waste money on litigating unconstitutional classes that cross the line into religious indoctrination,” Marshall said in his written statement.
Melson said his law is patterned after a Kentucky law and requires the state attorney general’s office to defend any litigation brought against a school district or board members related to the Bible classes.
Kentucky passed its law in 2017 and is currently embroiled in a battle over what the ACLU called “Bible Literacy classes.”
In a letter to the Kentucky Department of Education, the ACLU said any course addressing the Bible “in public schools must be secular, objective, nondevotional, and must not promote any specific religious view.”
Citing court rulings, the ACLU in the Kentucky letter said it’s “inappropriate and unconstitutional to use public-school educational courses to teach the Bible as truth or from a religious perspective, or to use such courses to disparage other faiths.”
The ACLU has not filed any litigation in Kentucky, and Melson said he has not been contacted by the ACLU about his legislation.
If a student makes a request, Morgan County’s public school superintendents said they’ll do what the law requires and stay within guidelines the state establishes.
They said one potentially big issues for this school year is that teachers already have classroom assignments and no one has received training on how to teach any of the classes.
“We’ll deal with the situation as it develops,” Douglas said.