Minding The Mentors: Wash. State School Restricts Proselytizing By Volunteers

A public school in Washington state has decided to stop school volunteers from proselytizing while on campus.

It's an overdue policy -- and the subject of one of my blogs from months ago. We'd like to commend officials at the Marysville School District for responding to complaints from concerned parents and taking this step in the right direction.

Turning Point Church sends volunteers to Totem Middle School to mentor students during lunch. According to the Everett Herald, many volunteers were under the impression that if a student asked them about religion, they could say whatever they wanted about their faith and invite students to church events.

Back in March, a volunteer sent this MySpace message to one of her mentees:
"Hey, 628 tonight! 6 o clock, free espresso for visitors. Super rad games and activities. Hang out with cool people. Plus you are really cool so it would just make it that much cooler. Are you going to be there? If you need a ride, I can hook it up."

"628" is Turning Point Church's youth group, and mentors often used MySpace and e-mail to attract middle schoolers to its events.

Rianne Olver, the mother of the 11-year-old who received this message, complained to the school. She was concerned that an adult was soliciting her child and offering to pick her up without parental permission.

"I don't want her being bribed into going to church," Olver told the Everett Herald.

A former middle school student told The Stranger that four years ago, emissaries from the church hung out in the school's hallways and handed out Bibles.

"[They said] that we should all go to Turning Point Church because it's a cool place to be," Nick Poling said. "They were out there waiting for us when we came out for the buses."

After receiving Olver's complaint, the school checked with its attorneys and now promises none of this will ever happen again.

Marysville Superintendent Larry Nyland added strict instructions in the volunteer handbook outlining what mentors can and can't say to kids about religion. Previously, the issue wasn't mentioned.

Volunteers must "be neutral on matters of religion" and not "promote religious or political viewpoints in interacting with students," the new policy states. Mentors cannot proselytize, nor can they invite students to events or ask for their contact information.

Volunteer training will begin in August, and Turning Point senior pastor Mike Villamor told the Everett Herald that the church never meant to turn the school into an evangelism project. He agreed that the new policy is "a fair and healthy approach to allowing people, including Christians, to get on campus and be an asset."

Let's hope the school and church volunteers abide by these new rules. So long as they don't slip into old habits, it sounds like it could be a happy ending for all.