Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 10, 2000

Board debates, keeps release time classes

By Dale Kovar

Religious release time classes were reviewed by the Lester Prairie School Board Tuesday with no changes being made to the current system.

Presently, up to about one-third of students in grades 2-8 attend the release classes offered through local churches.

Second through sixth graders go to 40-minute periods three times a week during the afternoon. Seventh and eighth graders meet in the early mornings, but arrive at school about 15 minutes late because of the classes.

Board member Barry Kyllo questioned the amount of time missed by those who attend, as well as what is done for the remaining students.

"With graduation standards and more and more requirements on the school, teaches are having to cram 11 pounds into a 10-pound bag. If we make the bag only nine pounds, it's even more difficult," he said.

Board member Gene Starke said that, hypothetically, if the local churches started a parochial school and the same students attended, the district would lose about $337,000 in state funding, but still would need the same amount of staff because two sections of classes would still be needed.

Kyllo pointed out that not necessarily all students would leave under such a scenario.

Board member Fred Blaser said there is enough participation in release classes to show they are worthwhile.

"I assume that one-third of the people out there believe this is important because they allow their children to go. I don't see any reason to change what we currently have," he said.

Kate Duncan, a high school student, recalled that when she was in sixth grade and didn't go to release classes, it was "free time" for the remaining students. She suggested that time be used for enrichment for stronger students, and extra help for those who need it.

The Rev. Grant Bode of St. Paul Lutheran Church said, "There is another quality that comes out. Release time is a program that teaches values and respect. That's what I appreciate. I'd be real careful about wanting to do away with this to make time for other things."

"No one is questioning the quality of release time," Board Chairman Chet Hoernemann said. "It's the cost to the district to find things to do in that time."

Hoernemann added that parents always have the right to take kids out of school at any time.

"Competition or cooperation - it's our choice," Starke said.

Kyllo said children who attend the classes outside of school time can learn the same values.

Elementary Principal Richard Hartshorn called it a "valuable, nurturing program," but said he has never been in a district "that had so much of it."

The biggest contention centered on handling the remaining students.

One suggestion from the audience was to trim the release classes from three periods a week to two.

Hartshorn said it is "difficult to have part of the class and get something done. I don't want to come out saying teachers aren't effective people - I know they are. You have to walk in their shoes before you say that."

From the audience, Barb Prehn said, "It's not the fault of the children remaining. It's who's in charge. Who's there to guide them?"

"The teachers are put in this position because we allow it to happen," Kyllo said. "We're not serving two-thirds of the kids during that time."

At one point, Starke pointed out that the release time classes are available to students of all faiths, not just members of certain churches.

The discussion was brought to a close with agreement to retain the present schedule and keep the lines of communication open with the churches.

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