A prayer delivered to the Sabillasville Elementary School student body at a school program last week conflicted with the district’s policy on religious expression, Frederick County Public Schools officials said.
The school system responded to the incident after an inquiry from The Frederick News-Post.
At Sabillasville’s 50th anniversary celebration last Wednesday, Bob Kells, pastor from Weller United Methodist Church in Thurmont, led an invocation at a school-wide assembly. Kells had been invited by organizers — made up of Sabillasville Elementary staff, administration and alumni — to speak at the event. Frederick County Board of Education President Brad Young and Superintendent Terry Alban were also in attendance.
Kells invoked the name of God multiple times in his prayer to an audience of students, school officials, parents and community members. The Frederick News-Post was present for the event.
“As we have celebrate these first 50 years of Sabillasville Elementary School, we ask you, oh God, to grant us renewed energy in fulfilling in the tasks of education — teaching, learning, applying what is taught — so that all who come here may continue to grow in knowledge, wisdom and character for the benefit of our society. May they, and we, belong to greater service to our community, our nation and your world. All this, we pray to the glory of your name,” Kells said in the invocation.
School spokesman Michael Doerrer said the invocation was a mistake and not in line with the school system’s policy on religious expression.
That policy states that no school system employee may encourage religious activities.
The committee that planned the event was attempting to follow the same program as the school’s groundbreaking and 25th anniversary celebrations, both of which incorporated an invocation, Doerrer said.
Doerrer said he did not know if the principal, Kate Krietz, was aware of what the pastor would say in the invocation.
In her introduction of the pastor, Krietz highlighted Kells’ role as a volunteer for the school, and so she may not have known what Kells would say in his remarks, Doerrer said. Kells and other Weller United Methodist Church representatives volunteer at the school weekly, Krietz said in her speech.
Doerrer refused to contact Krietz to verify whether she was aware of details of the invocation.
Krietz declined a phone interview through a Sabillasville Elementary staff member.
After the Wednesday event, Krietz had told The News-Post that the invocation was included because the anniversary was a special event.
Kells said in a phone message that he was unaware his remarks were not in line with the policy.
“My objective was to prepare some remarks in the invocation accessible to people of many, many faith traditions,” Kells said. “I’d like to believe that I accomplished that.”
The school system has received no complaints regarding the invocation, Doerrer said.
Doerrer declined to discuss whether anyone at the school would be disciplined for infringing on the religion policy.
Mark Pritts, an elementary instructional director, will reach out to Krietz to ask about the planning of the event, Doerrer said.
The school system provides ample training opportunities and guidance to principals to teach them about school policy, Doerrer said. He could not identify if, when or how principals received particular training on the religion policy.
The policy, adopted in 2007, allows for students to engage in individual or group prayer and engage in religious discussions during the school day. Students may read a Bible, or other faith-based texts, for example, or say grace before meals, or pray prior to a test.
School principals, however, may impose rules on student activities that they feel constitutes harassment of an individual or particular group of students.
School employees may not solicit or encourage religious activities or participate in them with students.