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OPINION PAGE - JANUARY 26, 2000 - JEFFERSON, GA

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Editorials
The Jackson Herald
January 26, 2000

Legislature should stay out of Bible fray
Should the Bible be taught in public schools?
There are a lot of sincere people who believe there is nothing wrong with Christian proselytizing in public schools. That feeling is no doubt one reason three bills are pending in the Georgia General Assembly to allow the Bible to be taught as history or literature.
But no matter how well-meaning those intentions may be, these bills are a distraction from the much bigger educational issues facing the legislature. One suspects they are little more than window dressing for this year's re-election campaigns.
The truth is, there is nothing in the law that currently prohibits a teacher from using the Bible as a historical or literary document in the classroom. Every English teacher should, for example, point out to students that the 1613 Authorized Version of the Bible, better known as the King James Version, had a profound impact on the development of the English language. History teachers should also acknowledge the profound role the spread of Christianity had on the formation of what is popularly called Western Civilization.
But the legislation now before the legislature goes further than those ideas by endorsing the idea of making the Bible itself the topic of a single class. While there are no laws that specifically prohibit them, such classes are generally not taught because of the potential backlash from parents. School administrators have stayed away from such courses because any study of a particular religion, or religious document, involves unavoidable theological debates. Such discussions always stir up parents who are sensitive to religious indoctrination issues and lead to arguments over how such courses should be taught.
But the big question for the legislature isn't indoctrination, but rather, should that body be meddling so deeply into classroom course content with legislation that prescribes a particular course with a particular textbook? Moreover, should that body seek to remedy a problem that doesn't exist, namely, that schools could have already offered such courses, but have largely chosen not to do so?
We believe the legislature should stay focused on the bigger issues of education it has before it and not get sidetracked by emotional debates and political grandstanding on such minor matters.


Letter
The Jackson Herald
January 26, 2000

Appreciates Adams' column on her uncle
Dear Editor:
After reading Virgil Adams' column last week, I feel like I should do something that I was "supposed to" have done a long time ago - tell him thank you. That plumber that Mr. Adams often writes about and refers to was my uncle. Dennis Fouche was all that Mr. Adams makes him out to be and more. We appreciate all that he has done and continues to do to keep my uncle's memory alive. While he will always be close to family and friends, I wish more people could have known him and known what a wonderful and unique person he was. Mr. Adams is making that possible through his writing.
I hope that Mr. Adams knows how much Dennis loved being the focus of his articles. In our family, it became a standing joke to ask our big "celebrity" for his autograph. I remember one chilly evening when Dennis showed up for a family chicken-mull gathering. If my memory serves me right, Dennis was shirtless, patting his stomach and claiming that he was having sympathy symptoms from Lynn's pregnancy. He proceeded to flaunt his "Hollywood status." Leave it to Dennis to always be the life of the party. I wish now that I had gotten that autograph.
I'll never forget the first time that Dennis met my boyfriend, who is now my husband. At the time, we had been dating for three months, and it was the first time that Jason had met my extended family. Of course, I had told Jason a little bit about each family member, which includes 40+ people. For almost everybody, one or two words immediately came to mind to describe them. Then, I came to Dennis, and I was speechless. Finding the right words to describe him was not an easy task. Thoughtful, compassionate, energetic - yes, but these words alone just didn't seem to come close to capturing the real Dennis. I finally ended up telling Jason that you just have to "experience" Dennis to know him. Fortunately, Jason was able to do that for a couple of years. Their first meeting consisted of Dennis telling Jason that now that he was with me, he was stuck here in Jackson County and we might as well get married, get land from Daddy, build a house and let him do the plumbing for free. I'm sure Dennis would have done that, if he'd been here two years later, when his prediction came true. Even though Dennis was not physically present at my wedding, our memorial candle to him burned bright throughout the entire ceremony.
Since words alone can't come close to portraying Dennis, we share the numerous memories and stories that we have collected over the years. They help us to keep Dennis close and to tell others about him, especially one very special young man named "Dino," Dennis' son. Dino (nicknamed by his father before he was born) will certainly know what kind of man his father was. We will help Dino "experience" his father through the priceless memories we have of him. Dino is almost 2 years old. Soon he will be old enough to understand the stories of a man who wore a paper pirate's hat in a Panama City restaurant to keep his nieces and nephews from being afraid of the costumed waiters, a man who made a mission every year out of hiding the Easter prize egg so well that not even adults could find it, and a man who would make a house call to rescue kittens from a lint hose. We appreciate Mr. Adams' giving us more wonderful stories of Dennis, and we thank him for helping us to help Dino "experience" his father.
Sincerely,
Diane Mergele
Jefferson



Column
By Mike Buffington
January 26, 2000

Attendance policy is needed
The proposal to limit the number of non-district students in the Jefferson City School System is a much-needed policy for its growing classrooms. It also marks a historic turning point for the system because the current open door atmosphere dates back to a variety of political and social decisions made in the early 1950s up through the 1980s.
For many years, the city system has had an open door policy of accepting any student no matter where they lived. That wasn't a problem when the system needed students to fill its facilities and to make maximum use of state funds.
But the area's growth in the last few years has the elementary school bursting and has pushed the system toward building a new middle school. Because it is a city school system, Jefferson must accept students who live inside the city, but it does not have to accept those who live outside the town. With space starting to become a premium, it just makes sense to limit access to those who live out of the city limits of Jefferson.
To many, that may seem like a simple solution that should have been done a couple of years ago. But the move has been slow to come because of the long history between the city system and students who lived outside the town. Here's the nutshell version of what is a complex history:
In the early 1950s, the state launched an education reform effort that resulted in the consolidation of most small community schools into larger systems. A part of that also dealt with the then-segregated schools of the South. In 1952, the Jefferson City system and the Jackson County system entered into a 25-year contract that assigned all black students to the county school system and in return, the city system would educate white county students who lived near Jefferson, but outside the city limits. The move was done so Jefferson could qualify for additional state funding under the new reform program. (In 1954, a similar contract was done between the county and the City of Commerce School System.)
In short, starting in the early 1950s, white students who lived in rural Jackson County near Jefferson were bused by the county system to Jefferson.
By 1970, the federal courts had gotten entangled in the local schools as desegregation took place. One part of the 1970 court order mandated that the old 1952 contract between Jefferson and Jackson County be extended for an additional 20 years so that Jefferson could qualify for state funds to house the influx of black students. The court created an attendance area around Jefferson for those county students. Although that contract was never executed officially, both systems continued to operate as though it had been done and the county continued to bus students to Jefferson city schools.
By 1980, this complex entanglement between the systems led to a series of lawsuits. By that time, the county school system had moved its high school from Braselton to Jefferson and had begun to accept students who lived in the court-created Jefferson attendance area. The county and city school systems swapped lawsuits and in 1981, the court said the attendance would be left up to the two local board to work out. Fearing an exodus of students, Jefferson adopted a policy which said that students living within the old attendance area would be forced to go to Jefferson City schools even if they lived outside the city.
That forced attendance angered many parents who paid taxes into the county school system, but were required to send their children to Jefferson. In 1985, the court ruled that the forced attendance could no longer take place and freedom of choice was granted to those county students.
So what does all of that have to do with the current out-of-district attendance policy being considered by the Jefferson Board of Education?
Simply this: Because of the long history of contracts and court orders, several generations of students who lived outside the city limits of Jefferson were educated in the Jefferson City School System. Many alumni of those years still have close ties to the city school system, even though they live outside the town. So while the Jefferson city system doesn't have a legal obligation to educate the children or grandchildren of those people, it does feel a sense of responsibility to those children because of the long-standing relationships.
So the proposed policy change is more than just an attendance rules, it is a shift in the priorities of the Jefferson City School System. Growth pressures have forced the system to attempt to balance those historic relationships with the more pressing obligations to city students and taxpayers.
The Jackson County School System had a similar problem a few years ago and decided to close its doors to all out-of-district students. But as time has shown, that was an over-reaction which now plagues the Jackson County Board of Education.
Jefferson must be fair to its own taxpayers, of course, but it cannot simply walk away from a decades-old relationship with non-district students.
Hopefully, this proposed policy will balance the complex interests at stake in the city's schools by closing the door a little without slamming it shut for good.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


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