Westside Consolidated School District school board members in Jonesboro, Ark., are considering adding an academic study of the Bible into their curriculum. Arkansas legislators made an academic study of the Bible possible in 2013 with the passage of Act 1440. Since that time, five schools in the state have such courses.
Board members began discussing the concept during a December Westside board meeting, indicating they would like to survey students to determine their interests in such a course.
At the Westside Board Meeting Monday night, directors stated 75 percent of 102 high school students since surveyed were interested in the course, reports KAIT-TV.
"They do the class as a literature class," said Westside Schools' Superintendent Bryan Duffie, who also noted the law is very specific on how such a class is to be taught, and what can and cannot be taught in the course.
"The two pathways that I think are most commonly chosen are history or literature."
Board member Josh Cureton said he supports being able to offer students more electives. "We're always talking about broadening our courses, and what we're offering students, and it looks like there's plenty of interest (in a Bible course)."
Board members unanimously voted to continue looking into offering the course, reports KAIT-TV.
Duffie said the next step is to develop a curriculum to be reviewed and approved by school board members. Then, the course would go through the approval process of the state Department of Education.
At this time, board members stated the new class was likely to reflect an emphasis on historical studies of the Bible.
"This course does not establish any religion in the schools. The state law is clear this course will not be about any doctrine, beliefs, denomination-specific issues. It may be taught similar to how world religions are taught in the world history course," Duffie told Christian Post.
In 2013, Arkansas passed House Bill 1017, now known as Act 1440, with the proposed legislation being passed 79-3 in the House and 33-1 in the Senate.
Among critics of such courses are representatives of the Washington D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Ian Smith, staff attorney with Americans United, told Christian Post that while it's legal for a Bible course to be taught in public schools "it is easily done wrong and opens the door for constitutional violations and potential lawsuits."
"It doesn't look like the teachers are required to have any kind of specialized instruction or training on how to present this material or interpret this material in the proper fashion. And the teachers most likely to volunteer to teach a Bible study course are the most devout of Christians," said Smith.
Smith said that while Act 1440 "talks a good game about not allowing indoctrination or proselytizing," he has his doubts about implementation.