A Wisconsin public school district recently received a complaint about the district's ties to a local Catholic preschool, which a national group says is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state.
Stephen Vessey, superintendent of the Beaver Dam Unified School District, was contacted on June 21 by Ryan Jayne, a legal fellow for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit that advocates for the separation of religion from government and public life.
The FFRF says the school district has a program that sends 3-year-old children with developmental delays to early childhood classes at private institutions.
According to the letter, a parent of an eligible child was initially offered only one option for the program: local Catholic school St. Katherine Drexel’s preschool, called God’s Little Miracles.
The letter denounces the partnership as unconstitutional and “wildly inappropriate.” It includes copies of informational materials from the preschool that FFRF says shows the program is based on the theme “Thank You, God” and built around Christian instruction.
“With a Christian god permeating everything in the curriculum of this preschool,” the program is clearly unconstitutional, Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, said on the group’s website.
Vessey called the concerns a “misunderstanding” and stated, “no student has to go to a definite preschool,” according to the Daily Citizen. He told reporters he has already addressed the situation with the parent in question and plans to examine the preschool’s instruction to ensure it complies with district policy.
No mention of such a program can be found on the district’s website, which only describes a community partnership program for 4-year-old children, for which St. Katherine’s is one of the seven available locations.
On St. Katherine’s website, there is no mention of any such program either, only that the school is a site for the 4K program. It says the theme is “I Am Special” and that it promotes “a positive self-image” and “attitudes of loving, sharing, and helping.” The description carries no references to Christianity. The “Thank You, God,” theme is included in the description for the school’s private preschool program, which carries no reference to affiliation with the district.