Principal’s online profile pulled for religious content

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: August 04. 2007 5:00AM PST

A visitor to Powell Butte Elementary School’s official Web site used to see a profile of Principal D.C. Lundy under the link titled “Administration.”

“He has been teaching and inspiring youth and staff alike at Powell Butte since 1979,” the text read. “When asked what he likes best about his job, he answered, ‘It allows me to do what God wants me to do in public — serve. …’ In his spare time, Mr. Lundy loves playing tennis, playing and writing music, studying Creation research and studying the Bible.”

On Thursday, the Crook County School District removed the biography. Superintendent Steve Swisher said he had never looked at the profile before this week and, after reviewing it, decided that it could be “misleading.”

“I’m not sure it’s inappropriate for a person to describe their own beliefs and who they are, but I did think that it was confusing because a person might be led to believe that’s our school curriculum, which it’s not,” Swisher said. “I thought we should pull it until we really review it.”

Lundy did not return repeated calls for comment made over several days.

The incident has raised questions for school officials about the gray areas of the church-state separation. In recent years, discussing creationism in public schools has been a hot topic of debate across the country and in Central Oregon. In March, a part-time teacher at Sisters High School was fired for presenting materials in biology class that deviated from the district’s curriculum on evolution and included information on the Bible and creationism, according to earlier Bulletin reports.

Gene Evans, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Education, said administrators and teachers have to be careful when bringing their personal religious beliefs into the school setting.

“The fine line that schools have to walk is when does talking about religion become promoting religion, and so that’s what we’re talking about here, and that’s a decision that the local communities have to make,” Evans said. “It sounds like he said these are his personal activities away from school. That’s the kind of thing, sure, that’s a description of the person, but you have to be sure that you don’t then become promoting or advocating for a religious belief on school grounds or school time, and that’s what we’re watching out for.”

Swisher said the district is in the process of revamping its Web sites, which were created more than 10 years ago. As part of that process, the information that appears about principals at the different schools in the system will be standardized.

“Some basic information about the principals (should be included),” he said. “…degrees they have and experience they have and perhaps a little bit of educational philosophy, I think that’s all very appropriate. I don’t know how appropriate who my favorite football player is, or how I like to go hunting, or what my own personal religious beliefs are — I’m not sure we should personalize it to that degree.”

Swisher said he asked Lundy about the profile, and Lundy said he wrote it eight or nine years ago, when he was a teacher at Powell Butte Elementary. Lundy told Swisher he was not aware it had been moved into the administration section of the Web site.

But the first line of the biography read, “D.C. Lundy is Powell Butte’s principal,” indicating that it was revised at some point. Swisher said he has asked the district’s technology department about Powell Butte’s Web site, and no one is sure when, why or by whom Lundy’s bio was posted.

“That was probably on the Powell Butte Elementary Web site then 10 years ago as a bio of one of the teachers, then at some point when that same teacher became the principal then probably one of the tech guys most likely — I don’t even know who — was making corrections and basically just slid it under the administration (section),” he said. “And right now as I ask questions, no one here actually knows how that occurred.”

Crook County School Board Chairman Jeff Landaker said he has asked Swisher to look into who created the Web site.

“I will know how it got posted — I’ve requested that information to be given to me at the next school board meeting (on Aug. 13),” Landaker said. “I want to make sure that is something that it doesn’t fall through the cracks or loopholes or anything else in the future.”

Landaker said he thought it was correct for the school district to remove the site as soon as officials became aware of it.

“I feel that’s something that D.C. Lundy was doing on a personal basis — it’s not a reflection of any curriculum that the school district has really adopted,” he said. “If I was an outsider and I pulled this up, I can see where it could cause some controversy. It’s probably not an appropriate thing to have posted on any district Web site.”

Evans said the state Department of Education has not heard any concerns about the biography.

“We get involved if there’s a complaint and there hasn’t been a complaint about Powell Butte or about the Web site,” he said. “We don’t go out and surf the Web and look at people’s bios and do that, but we certainly follow up if somebody makes a complaint and says, ‘I was offended or I felt uncomfortable sending my child to Powell Butte because of the principal’s statements.’”

According to state law, if the Department of Education receives a complaint “that on its face is colorable that a school district or public charter school sponsors, financially supports or is actively involved with religious activity,” the superintendent’s office will start a preliminary investigation of the facts in the case. If the investigation finds a “substantial basis” to believe there is a legitimate concern, the Department of Education will immediately withhold all state school funds due to the school, and schedule a hearing to further investigate the complaint.

Swisher said the school district does not have policies specifically addressing principals and teachers discussing their religious beliefs “outside of the classroom.”

“We do have policies about teaching controversial topics,” he said. “The whole piece up there about creationism and stuff, of course, that’s not in our science curriculum — we follow the state laws in that particular area. … We do have not as a policy, but just a practice, clarity and making sure that we’re not confusing people.”

Swisher added that he has not heard from any parents about the site.

“In this case I hadn’t had any complaints and, frankly, wasn’t aware of it,” he said. “I’m not sure how many people have even seen it. As far as I know, it’s not one of the hot topics in town.”

Rebecca Walker, who has a sixth-grader at Powell Butte Elementary School and two older children in the Crook County school system, described Lundy as an “upstanding, aboveboard, do-things-right guy.”

“He does not hide the fact that he is affiliated with the church, yet he doesn’t use that as being principal of the school,” Walker said. “I think he’s aware that he has to be very careful because of state regulations that mix the school with the church — he doesn’t do that at all.”

Walker said she had not ever seen Lundy’s profile, but she doesn’t think it was improper for the principal to include information about his religious beliefs.

“It’s kind of a tough row to hoe because it is a part of him, yet it doesn’t overtake his role as being principal,” she said. “I think that Mr. Lundy has found (that line) very well.”

Lundy’s biography on the school’s Web site was not unique only in its content. Only one other Crook County principal, Jim Golden, of Crook County High School, has posted personal information about himself on the school site. Golden’s profile mainly features information about his educational and professional background, but also mentions his wife and two sons and concludes, “We love outdoor activities including skiing, rafting, fishing and mountaineering.”

All of the Web sites for Crook County’s schools are accessed through the main district Web site, www.crookcounty.k12.or.us. Swisher said there has not been general oversight of the individual school sites since they were created, but some staffers in the information technology department are now working on unifying the sites.

Some of the Web sites in the Bend-La Pine Schools include a “message from the principal” describing the individual schools. High Desert Middle School Principal Gary DeFrang is the only one who has a personal statement, which includes information about his professional experience. Swisher said that reworking the Crook County School District’s Web site to have a more consistent format will help avoid confusing situations in the future.

“It will give us the ability then to go in and revise the content easily without having a lot of technical skill, without having Web design skill and that kind of stuff,” he said. “Right now the Web site is a conglomeration, I guess I would call it, of probably more than a dozen years of bits and pieces.”

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