Sunday, September 4, 2011

UPDATED: School Prayer: Did she really say that?**

I just noticed this Ann Arbor Journal article, ANN ARBOR: School board candidates meet with cabinet staff, ask questions at forum, that came out on August 24th, 2011, while I was away. Many thanks to the Ann Arbor Journal for covering this meeting.

It starts out,
School board candidates Patrick Leonard, Lawrence Murphy, Albert Howard and Ahmar Iqbal met the Ann Arbor Public Schools cabinet staff and asked questions Aug. 23.
The "cabinet staff" refers to the top paid professionals in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The idea was to help the school board candidates get oriented.

One of the candidate's questions were summarized:
[Albert] Howard had some religious questions to ask of the board, as well. Howard asked David Cosma if "the AAPS (would) be willing to add the Bible as a historical book to their teaching curriculum," to which Cosma stated that Michigan law allowed the Bible to be taught as a historical document, but the decision to teach the Bible was not his decision.
I think the article is referring to David Comsa, who is the district's legal counsel. There actually are English classes in the district that teach small bits of the Bible as literature.  I'm not sure if there are also history classes using it.

Here's the doozy, though--are you ready for it?
Howard also asked [Patricia] Green if she supported prayer in school, to which she replied she didn't have a position and would uphold what the board decided. (Emphasis added.)
Really? Patricia Green--the new AAPS superintendent--has been an educator for many, many years. She's been a superintendent, an assistant superintendent, a principal, and a teacher. She has a PhD in Educational Philosophy, and she doesn't have a position on school prayer?

Here are the descriptive words* that I've come up with to describe the possible reasons for her response.
1. This is a load of malarkey. In other words, she's selling the school board candidates--and us--a load of b.s.
2. She's being disingenuous. In other words, she is not telling the truth.
3. She's obfuscating. In other words, she's hiding her true feelings behind a veil of impartiality.
4. She's being obsequious. In other words, she wants the new school board candidates to feel that they can do whatever they want.

If any of these are true, my confidence in her is diminished. In other words, I feel less confident.

On the other hand--what if it is true that she doesn't have a position on school prayer? That is even scarier to me. Anyone who has had leadership positions in multiple school districts should be expected to have a position on school prayer.

UPDATE: Liz Margolis, the AAPS Communications Director, sent me the following email after I had already published this post: 
The report was inaccurate. When Mr. Howard asked Dr. Green how she felt about prayer in school it came right after he asked David Comsa the same questions. Dr. Green followed up David Comsa's response that she didn't have a position because she would follow the law. It was not meant as a way to ditch the subject at all but rather a way to address a question which she believes the law dictates.
The Ann Arbor Journal has not yet posted a correction, but if they do, I will share it. 
If Liz Margolis' account is correct, I feel relief that our new superintendent said something more reasonable. I wasn't there, but if anyone else who was there would like to share their observations of what happened at the meeting, feel free to do that in the comments. 


Not only that, but I am pretty sure that the Ann Arbor school board and school leadership has discussed this before. There may even be a position on record. I couldn't find out for sure, because the Ann Arbor schools web site is pretty much impossible to search nowadays.

 More Update: Liz Margolis also promises to share past Ann Arbor school board policies and discussions about school prayer--if any exist--and if so, I will post them as well, in a separate post. 

I was, however, able to dig up the religious calendar policy (because I already knew it existed), and it infers in this paragraph--which I very much like--that school prayer would not be welcomed:
We are a diverse community reflecting many traditions and perspectives. If each of us is sensitive to both the direct and subtle ways we demonstrate respect and appreciation for these differences, we will each be a positive force in providing a multi-cultural education for our students.
Alternatively, Patricia Green could have turned to one of the other cabinet members, and said, "I don't know if there already is a policy in place--can anyone with a longer history with the district answer this question?" 
Or she could have shared her (real) position.
Or she could have shared the process for the district to come up with a position, if there isn't one.
Or she could have said something like, "There is a very long history of litigation around school prayer issues and the case law on this is fairly well-settled." Perhaps she could have even referred Mr. Howard to some of the cases, such as Engel v. Vitale."
Update: Per Liz Margolis she did something like the last choice.
In any case, I can tell you that I am chagrined, crestfallen, dissatisfied, disappointed, disgruntled, and--yes--vexed and confounded by her response. Or not, if the update is correct.

*Hey, high school students and parents of high school students: these could be good ACT/SAT words! Look them up if you don't know them!

**All of this assumes that Dr. Green's response was accurately recorded--which is the assumption that I generally make with our local news reporters. Please see the updates in this post. They do confound this assumption, and, in fact, the whole post.


  1. Ahmar Iqbal here and as a A2 school board candidate, I was in attendance at the Aug 23 "candidate orientation" hosted by the school administration.

    Liz Margolis is correct that Dr. Green's response [best to my recollection] is that her opinion regarding school prayer does not matter since the law does not permit it [required prayer in school].

    Dr. Green did not refer to the school board for any input on the prayer in school question. She did, however, refer to the school board setting curriculum guidelines which could include the Bible being used as a historical book.

    Again, this is the best to my recollection from the meeting.

    Ahmar Iqbal

  2. I asked Dr. Patricia Green: "What is your stance on Prayer in the public schools? She answered: "I do not have a stance on prayer in the public schools".

    The legal counsel answered me: "Your question is irrelevant".

    The news chose not to print this.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. I have a new post, reflecting on this post, and it can be found

  4. The U. S. Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787 – Constitution Day! Federal law requires public schools to observe that day, but studies show that up to 90 percent of schools ignore the law.

  5. At the risk of being recursive (referring to something that refers back to me) I will note that the Ann Arbor Chronicle has a story up about what their reporter observed:

  6. "Howard+8 Boycott" Our 8 Children won't be attending Ann Arbor Public Schools on September 28th. $9,000 x 8 = $72,000 Can you hear me now? #Wealth #Transfer #Count #Day #Bus #Transportation

  7. Why, Mr. Howard?
    You are a school board candidate and you are going to keep your children home on count day?

  8. Brilliant, Mr. Howard. That will do WORLDs of good. Thank you. And our cash-strapped schools, and my school-aged kids thank you as well.

  9. For some insight into Mr. Howard's intellectual rigor (and an update on the new location of the White House!), see his website: