The Bible history program taught in local schools could become a model for other Tennessee systems until a state-approved curriculum goes into effect.
“This summer we’ll collect all the curriculums from systems that already offer Bible courses so we’ll have them on file to share with other districts that don’t have one,” said Rachel Woods, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
State legislators recently passed a bill allowing the creation of a state-sponsored Bible curriculum, giving all Tennessee counties a chance to offer the elective.
However, since the curriculum won’t have state Board of Education approval by August until next year, districts new to Bible classes must rely on systems such as Hamilton County’s that now offer Bible study to provide pre-approved curricula.
“The state board has to approve this on two readings, and it will only go through the first reading by August,” Ms. Woods said.
Because legislators heard concerns from some of the five counties that offer Bible classes now — Hamilton, Bradley, Greene, Knox and Wilson — they wrote a provision into the law that allows pre-approved classes to remain untouched.
“There would never be a forced choice, or (the state telling a district), ‘You can’t use your curriculum,’ ” Ms. Woods said.
ON THE WEB
To read a summary of Senate Bill 4104/House Bill 4089 on Bible classes, go to www.legislature.state.tn.us
As an elective, Bible courses typically need to be approved each year by the state, Ms. Woods said. Because Hamilton County has offered the classes since 1922, yearly approval no longer is required.
Hamilton County operates the largest privately funded Bible education program in the nation, according to Doug Stromberg, president of the local Public School Bible Study Committee. The organization raises money from individuals, businesses and churches and offers it to Hamilton County Schools to pay for the classes.
Not much will change in Hamilton County with the new law, Mr. Stromberg said. Most likely, the Bible study committee will continue next year to pay the salaries of 16 teachers who teach in 19 local schools, he said.
“We don’t anticipate adding any new classes next year, even though the demand is there,” he said.
Ava Warren, Hamilton County Schools’ assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said last month she didn’t think Hamilton County’s Bible offerings would be affected by the law.
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...