S.D. school district unhappy with teacher’s Good News Club role

Monday, August 4, 2003

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Sioux Falls School District is appealing a federal judge’s decision that allows a teacher to take part in an after-school religious club.

The district has decided to take U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol’s ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A month ago, Piersol ruled that Barbara Wigg should be able to participate in the Good News Club but that the school district could prevent her from doing so in her own school. Piersol called it a freedom-of-speech case.

The district said letting a teacher participate at a school other than where the teacher is assigned may interfere with future administrative decisions. The school district also said Wigg’s participation in the club would imply that the schools favor a specific religion.

The Good News Club is a Christian program sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship.

Wigg, a second- and third-grade teacher, said she was surprised and disappointed at the district’s appeal.

Mathew Staver, a Florida lawyer for a group supporting Wigg, said he had hoped the school district would have learned its lesson and abided by the First Amendment.

“If it is overturned, it tells teachers that the school has a right to tell them how to regulate their private lives,” Staver said.

The district also is appealing a $90,000 claim for fees and costs by Staver’s group, the Liberty Council.

If Wigg led the program at Laura B. Anderson School, where she teaches, a reasonable person could view it as another class at the end of the school day, according to the school district.

Wigg said she was ready to teach at another school.

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