KRUM - Krum ISD board meetings could begin with student-led prayers soon, if the board discussion during Wednesday night's meeting was any indication.

The board discussed the idea of allowing student volunteers to say a nondenominational prayer before each board meeting, but wrestled with the legal questions that come along with that.

"It does open up the possibility of someone coming in and filing a complaint or a civil rights lawsuit," Superintendent Cody Carroll said. "The potential is there for all of that."

Districts can violate the U.S. Constitution if they promote any religion in school or at school functions. Teachers aren't allowed to lead prayers, but students can gather individually to pray. For instance, some Denton area kids participate in the national "See You at the Pole" day, where students can gather before school and pray in a circle around the flagpole.

The issue of school prayer in Birdville ISD near Fort Worth almost made it to the U.S. Supreme Court recently. A former student partnered with the American Humanist Association to sue the district over its practice of starting board meetings with student-led prayers, saying he felt "violated and uncomfortable."

The Supreme Court didn't take up the case, but lower courts dismissed the lawsuit. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the student-led prayers fell under the "legislative prayer exception" typically reserved for prayers at city council meetings and was therefore protected.

Krum ISD has a policy on its books that allows students to voluntarily speak or pray at school events in a quasi-public forum setting. If needed, school officials will give a disclaimer that the school does not sponsor the student's individual remarks.

The Texas Association of School Boards cautions against prayers at school board meetings, but several Krum board members saw the issue as an extension of the district's existing policy.

"I think a lot of the kids would think it was neat," board President Eric Borchardt said. "It would be an honor."

Others worried there could be a fine line between student volunteers and a district official asking a student to lead a prayer.

"If a student came in and signed up for the open forum and prayed, that's totally fine," board Vice President Mark Cofer said. "But if we as a board solicited students and said, 'Hey, come lead a prayer,' is that not the same thing as a teacher asking someone to lead a prayer?"

John Callarman, a longtime Krum resident and reporter for the Krum News, said he's never seen pushback from the community because of prayers at city council meetings.

"I have heard no response from anyone in the community in that 16-year period I've been observing council meetings," he said. "I'm not a particularly religious person, but I recognize the realities of human life, at least. Nobody is going to change his mind if he hears a prayer."

Carroll said the district has gotten complaints about religion in the schools, from students praying during commencement to the district holding graduation in a church because they needed extra space.

"We just have to accept that some people are going to complain about this," board member Brad Andrus said.

The subject of religion in government cropped up in another Denton County agency recently when Sheriff Tracy Murphree included a Bible verse on a press release sent out on social media.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to Murphree about the press release, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution. Others argued that Murphree has a right to free speech.

Krum ISD officials said they would consult with their attorney on any legal questions and continue discussing the subject in upcoming meetings.

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @CjonesDRC.

Recommended for you