Buncombe County School Board sets religious policy

According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, on April 12, the Buncombe County School Board set a policy “to follow federal law and ‘neither advance nor inhibit’ religious beliefs…. The overall policy says that the Buncombe County school system will ‘neither advance nor inhibit any religion or religious belief, viewpoint, expression or practice.'”

The policy update came after a controversy last year in which “Ginger Strivelli, a Pagan and the mother of a student there, complained after she says her son brought home a Bible left at the school by Gideons International.”

The School Board “held off on making a decision on the more contentious issue of whether religious groups can leave materials like Bibles at middle and high schools for distribution.”

Below, Xpress has compiled live dispatches via Twitter, made by another Pagan mom, Angela Pippinger:

6:09 PM Good evening lovies! I am at the Board of Education meeting re: religions policy. Supposed to vote tonight. Follow the tweets at

6:13 PM Full crowd here tonight at Board of Ed. Should be starting in the next 15 minutes.

6:35 PM Looks like a late start folks. The room is spilling out into the hallway and board members just now arriving to their seats.

6:41 PM Just did the Pledge and a moment of silence

6:43 PM Chairperson Rinehart has moved the Religions Policy issue to the top of the agenda

6:49 PM Right now we are discussing Gifted & Talented before the public commentary.

6:53 PM Superintendent is talking about the hard work of the lawyer and other members for their hardwork behind new religions policies.

6:54 PM Superintendent is also encouraging the passing of the “annual religious fair” policy, aka Policy 653.

6:55 PM Strike that, Superintendent is encouraging that policy 653 (annual religious fair) be tabled for voting on next school year.

6:56 PM And we take a break for Jan Blunt to conduct Employee Recognition

7:01 PM Taking some time to recognize students for their acheivements

7:06 PM Time for discussion on ROTC

7:15 PM We shall begin the public comments. Each person has 3 minutes and only allows the speaker to address the board.

7:16 PM I cannot live tweet this commenter, he is speaking loud enough and I only catch a word or two.

7:17 PM Excuse me, he isn’t speaking loud enough.

7:20 PM Ryan Fender says Board should consider an age limit for kids being exposed to bible in schools.

7:20 PM Ryan Fende is speaking about what the bible is, A book of history, science, and poetry. Should not keep bibles out of schools.

7:21 PM Ryan Fender just wants Christians to be respected the same as all other faiths and atheists.

7:22 PM Guy Sales a Baptist minister thanks the board for protecting separation of church and state.

7:23 PM Guy Sales says that Jesus speaks about not coercing fellow man and that the Board is upholding that with the policies.

7:24 PM Guy Sales says religious groups should not need or want government assistance in professing their faith.

7:24 PM Guy Sales says that an annual religious fair is a bad idea and a role that Board should not take on.

7:26 PM Tina Chandler says without God the schools will be destroyed in these last days.

7:26 PM Tina Chandler asksBoard not toremove prayer or anything of God out of schools. Says it’s always been that way &should stay that way.

7:27 PM Tina Chandler feels that without God in schools her kids will have to fear being shot or beat up.

7:28 PM Pat Hamm (sp?) says Thank You to the board for offering the time for everyone to speak their mind.

7:29 PM Pat Hamm appreciates the new policies and feels they did a good job trying to meet the desires of the community.

7:31 PM Sally Guze member of Beth Israel, teacher for many years outside of NC. Has dealt with religious issues in classrooms.

7:32 PM Sally Guze understands difficulty of finding balance. She believes that Separation of Church & State should be strongly abided by.

7:33 PM Sally Guze says children should learn to love and respect each other and NOT be divisive.

7:34 PM Frank Goldsmith feels distribution of any religious materials is a huge mistake. #avlgov.
7:34 PM Frank Goldsmith encourages the tweaking and reconsideration of “religious fair” policy before even considering voting it in.

7:35 PM Frank Goldsmith says it’s wrong forany taxpayer to assume their religious should be taught to all students. It undermines parenting.

7:36 PM Frank Goldsmith says Evangelicalism and prosletyzing has a place but not in a public school setting. #avlgov.
7:38 PM Carol Rash says children can understand the bible and thus should be able to use it to encourage reading.

7:40 PM Ben Whitmire says that with heated discussion it’s easy to overlook the truth.

7:41 PM Ben Whitmire wants Board toconsider age limits fordistribution ofbibles. Middle & HS could be discriminated against getting a bible.

7:42 PM Ben Whitmire says if his son can’t get a bible at school than board says he isn’t smart enough to handle the bible.

7:43 PM unnamed woman says schools used to learn bible in schools because parents couldn’t Bring it back.

7:47 PM Clark Anderson is upset by “age appropriateness” of the policies.

7:48 PM Rosa Barns says religions is important in schools and she should have the right to pray before her basketball team.

7:49 PM Rosa Barns says no matter what happens she will continue to pray at school.

7:49 PM Rosa Barns says her praying before meals & games and professing her faith is too important for her to be able to do at school.

7:52 PM unnamed speaker says that she is a Christian and she is sorry that people are not loving their neighbors like they should.

7:52 PM unnamed speakers says a bible handed to a student is advocation not education.

7:52 PM unnamed speaker says that teachers CAN teach about religion but not advocate.

7:55 PM Bill Bullman says children should have every opportunity including receiving a bible in school.

7:55 PM Bill Bullman says his parents taught him about the bible, it wouldn’t have helped him to receive one in school.

7:59 PM Rusty Smart thanks the board for all their hard work and not for allowing bullying by the minority.

8:00 PM Rusty Smart wishes Ann Franklin would have spoken more on this issue.

8:01 PM Rusty Smart says we all have the right to worship god as we see him but only one way to heaven.

8:02 PM Rusty Smart says people shouldn’t complain and bully the board. They should ask how to help make things better.

8:03 PM I am paring down tweets to unique comments. A lot of repeats taking place.

8:05 PM Jackie Simms feels the weight of the job of the Board finalizing the policy is a tough one.#avlgov
8:06 PM Jackie Simms says she felt she should live by example.

8:06 PM Jackie Simms is a retired teaacher of 44 years. She never felt the weight of sharing her beliefs with students.

8:07 PM Jackie Simms has spoken with African American community about policies and they say it’s simple, no distribution of material

8:08 PM Jackie Simms says keeping them out means parental control on religious upbringing.

8:09 PM David Shepard says parents are being too fearful about what will happen to their kids while at schools.

8:09 PM David Shepard non curriculum books should be handled by the library. Says a Torah in library is not harmful.

8:10 PM David Shepard says if you want God in your child’s heart, teach them that. Kids are being misled that prayer is being taken away.

8:12 PM Lisa kemper also questions how the board would determine what can be handed out at religious fair.

8:12 PM Lisa Kemper says religious materials is not safe in schools, It gives bullies ammo against kids.

8:13 PM Lisa Kemper says the teachers and board have enough to do, should not be their job to religiously educate the students.

8:15 PM Thomas Penland claims that founding fathers being deists and unbelievers is a myth.

8:17 PM Thomas Penland is in short claiming US is a theocracy.

8:18 PM A child is up speaking about how wonderful Jesus is and asks board not to take Jesus from her.

8:19 PM Scarlet says that as a Christian the Golden Rule applies to all, not just those of the same religion.

8:20 PM Scarlet is reciting verses stating that Christians should support freedom of religion for everyone, not just themselves.

8:24 PM Unnamed speaker says that when bibles were beginning to be rejected in 1963 is when SAT scores went down.

8:29 PM Jerry Rice is now discussing scripture.

8:29 PM Jerry Rice says there is only one way, Jesus.

8:31 PM Jerry Rice says you can’t debate Jesus, you do what he says to do.

8:32 PM Ginger Strivelli wrote her own prayer to Aries in regards to the fear and hatred in the room.

8:32 PM Ginger Strivelli says we have been forced to listen to prayers and scripture readings.

8:33 PM Sybil Sue states that she doesn’t go to school for organized prayer or biblical teachings.

8:33 PM Sybil Sue speaks about how she has been bullied and excluded because she is pagan.

8:33 PM Sybil Sue Strivelli says she is pagan and in support of the policies.

8:35 PM Fred says that he can barely understand how it feels for anyone to be ostracized because they are not in the majority religion.

8:35 PM Fred is a taxpayer of Bunc Co, not a parent, and supports Separation of Church and State because it’s the right thing to do.

8:36 PM Fred says parents and religious organizations should be responsible for teaching their religious education, not the public system.

8:38 PM Cathy loves God and says she absolutely supports Separation of Church and State.

8:39 PM Cathy says everyone holds the sliver of the truth yet all of us don’t know the entirety of God.

8:40 PM Cathy says our children are vulnerable and will follow the majority to gain popularity.

8:41 PM Cathy says adults should respect parents and their choice to raise their kids as they see fit.

8:42 PM Rabbi Rob says all seek religious freedom and yet the same seekers would deny others religious freedom.

8:42 PM Rabbi Rob points out everyone, except Native Americans, are immigrants. Fleeing oppression and some brought to be oppressed.

8:43 PM Rabbi Rob says that after that, founding fathers declared freedom of religion to encourage the Land of the Free for ALL.

8:44 PM Rabbi Rob says we are here because times are changing and change is inevitable.

8:49 PM Leslie Lloyd says as a child she had no idea that people had different beliefs.

8:50 PM Leslie Lloyd says we are a country that respects diversity.

8:50 PM Leslie Lloyd says that as a child, her learning about other faiths was outside the school system and on her own child.

8:51 PM A rep from Americans United is speaking. Says laws strictly prohibit the distribution of religoius material.

8:53 PM Americans United reminds the board that a disclaimer does not absolve the school system from liability.

8:55 PM Ms. Pressley says that if her children are being taught they can’t pray at school, then her children won’t respect her.

8:56 PM Ms. Pressley says when they had bibles & prayer in school they didn’t have violence in schools.

9:00 PM We are taking a bathroom break for 15 minutes.

9:14 PM weare back y’all

9:15 PM Robert Boone says Faith in something Supreme is indispensable to religion.

9:17 PM Robert Boone says Secular Humanism is a religion and Obama is to blame for Secular Humanism gaining control in our society.

9:18 PM Robert Boone says that the policy is a trap for the religious.

9:20 PM unnamed speaker asks “Why should we follow a godless board?”

9:21 PM unnamed speaker says God is truth and more important than hurting someone’s feelings.

9:26 PM Christina Bowers says adults have great influence on children’s lives.

9:27 PM Christina Bowers says she expects her school to be a safe place for all of her peers regardless of religion.

9:27 PM Christina Bowers says Adults are responsible for teaching children respect in regards to religion.

9:28 PM Claire Eubanks student at NBS, sees a lot of negativity and fear and says that policies will negate that negativity and fear.

9:29 PM Andrew Oliver, student NBS, speaks about the rights of all and emphasizes that our government shall not endorse a specific religion.

9:30 PM Andrew says no one has to like it or believe in it but they have to abide by the law.

9:30 PM Andrew reminds the board that the constitution is the supreme law of the land.

9:31 PM Andrew says many religions, not just christianity, uphold morals and respect to the law of the lands.

9:32 PM . @ByronBallard says policies are not perfect but are an excellent start

9:32 PM . @ByronBallard says she is standing here for the 3rd time hoping 3rd time is a charm in support of the policies.

9:33 PM Patrick Covington says he wasn’t going to speak but as a Heathen he has to speak his mind. #avlgov (lol!)
9:33 PM . @ByronBallard says she looks forward to passing policy so religious leaders of all faiths can begin the work to make schools safe.

9:35 PM Patrick states he appreciates the hard work and looks forward to seeing what happens with the policies.

9:36 PM unnamed speaker says majority of county is Christian and majority should be able to defend their rights to their religion.

9:37 PM Slight upset but Chairperson had Ginger go back to original seat and told speaker to speak without bringing up Ginger’s name.

9:37 PM unnamed speaker called out Ginger and Ginger stepped up and sat directly in front of the gentlemen.

9:39 PM Speaker is saying only 1 person has caused the issue. Many people shouted “NO”. For the record, it was many peoplewho worked onthis.

9:42 PM Speaker says one person should not silence the majority

9:44 PM Michelle Hammond says the law of the land can’t infringeon anothers religious practices. She says policies infringes on Christianity

9:48 PM Karen Byrd claims that students are now too fearful to be themselves religiously because someone complained about the bibles.

9:50 PM student says kids have told her they can’t sit near her or be her friend because she is pagan.

9:50 PM student is speaking on how she has been bullied about her pagan faith.

9:51 PM Student says if English teacher is teaching with religious text that is one thing. A calculus teacher cannot promote their faith.

9:52 PM Pagan Student says if she has to pray on her own time than so does everyone else.

9:53 PM Monroe Gilmore says we should listen closely to the pagan student. Constitution is to protect the minority!

9:54 PM Monroe Gilmore says teachers and coaches are agents of the state and cannot promote any type of religion.

9:55 PM Monroe Gilmore reminds everyone that people can still pray and the fear should not take over one’s emotion.

9:57 PM Cathy Friarson says everyone was brought up with God and knows Him and should not leave Him at home.

9:57 PM Cathy Friarson (sp?) is saddened that Christians have to defend God and who he is.

9:58 PM Cathy Friarson says children cannot learn anything without God.

9:59 PM Cathy Friarson is praying for everyone who doesn’t know God.

10:00 PM unnamed speaker says everyone has been bullied and got through it. Says we shouldn’t encourage people not bully each other.

10:01 PM unnamed speaker says religion is in school, called Global Warming. Even though it’s been disproved.

10:02 PM unnamed speaker says people are afraid of the Bible.

10:04 PM unnamed speaker says that WNC Atheists aren’t here and should rename themselves as WNC Phonies.

10:06 PM Don Yelton says Superintendent made a mistake by recommended that tabling religious fair policy.

10:06 PM unnamed speaker says that people are trying to take their guns away. #avlgov (not sure how this relates to bibles in school)
10:07 PM Don Yelton says religious fair shouldn’t be one day but a week, month, or a year.

10:07 PM Don Yelton says that some people are fighting back like children. if you tell a kid not to learn Wicca they will learn Wicca.

10:08 PM Don Yelton is happy that TN is now going to teach Creationism along with Evolution.

10:08 PM Don Yelton says kids should be exposed to every religion as early as possible.

10:10 PM Freeman says that the bible says you have to tell others about Jesus and teachers should be able to.

10:15 PM another speaker claiming Evolution is religion.

10:16 PM Public commentary is OVER! Moving on to vote

10:17 PM Another board member wants to table the vote because of the term neutrality might cause exclusivity.

10:17 PM One board member wants to table the vote because there hasn’t been a working session about the policies.

10:18 PM Board member, that is lawyer, is explaining neutrality to the other two board members.

10:19 PM Says that with neutrality, a student can spend some free time irreligiously or religiously without coersion.

10:19 PM Says that neutrality means that the school does not make a preference over religion.

10:21 PM There is question in whether or not neutrality can be replaced with unbiased. Lawyer wants more time to study that.

10:27 PM There is ALOT of discussion about the word neutrality in the policies.

10:31 PM Now we are getting into the use of the term Lack Of Bias.

10:34 PM Superintendent says he respects all religions and as Superintendent he has to protect ALL children’s best interests.

10:35 PM A reminder from the Board that the policy does not hinder on wearing religious symbols, praying or, denying a child their religion.

10:36 PM The Board just voted to amend the policy. The policy is NOT in place and has yet to be approved.

10:36 PM Board reminds families that the children have to be the facilitator over their beliefs while at school.

10:38 PM Policy has been APPROVED!!!!!!

10:40 PM This means that one word in each policy will be changed BUT it IS approved!

10:41 PM I am exhausted y’all so with that, I am logging off. Thanks for following!

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Buncombe County School Board sets religious policy

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.