Analysis of school board policies relating to the Establishment Clause

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this study was to analyze the current school board policies within the Commonwealth of Virginia to determine if they were consistent with the federal judicial system's interpretation of the Establishment Clause. Twenty-four federal district, circuit and Supreme Court cases were analyzed to determine the court's interpretation of the Establishment Clause as it relates to the public schools. Twenty-one criteria were developed from this analysis and the criteria were used to evaluate the school board policies of Virginia school divisions. The criteria were separated into five categories to provide greater clarity and organization. The five categories include general, prayer, Bible reading, release time programs and equal access.

Approximately 91 percent of the schools in the Commonwealth responded to this study. Approximately 55 percent of the schools returned policies which governed at least one Establishment Clause issue. Approximately 36 percent of the schools responding to this study declared that they had no policies relating to any issues as defined by this study.

The data from this study demonstrated that the majority of school board policies throughout the Commonwealth are not consistent with the judicial system's interpretation of the Establishment Clause. The policies which were returned and evaluated satisfied only 35 percent of the criteria within the general category; 12.83 percent of the criteria within the prayer category; 24.34 percent within the Bible reading category; 16.58 percent within the release time category; and 21.05 percent within the equal access category.

Overall the policies which were analyzed satisfied only 22.74 percent of the entire set of criteria. The most successful school division satisfied only 52 percent of the criteria and over 61 percent of the policies failed to satisfy more than 27 percent of the criteria.