Sonshine Academy Preschool explains its decision
By the Rev. Michael R. Scudder
Since Old Threshers’ is packed up, the halls of Faith Lutheran Church are ringing with the voices of the Sonshine Academy preschool students. What a joy and blessing it is to have these children of God in our building. It certainly brightens my day. I’m not sure who ministers to whom more – the students to me or me to the students. Regardless, it is a joy.
There has been quite a bit of information in the Mt. Pleasant News about the Mt. Pleasant Community School District (MPCSD) moving into the State-Wide Voluntary Preschool Program (SWVPP). Also it has been mentioned in the Mt. Pleasant News that Sonshine Academy Preschool – a ministry of Faith Lutheran Church – would not be partnering with the MPCSD in this new adventure. Faith Lutheran Church and the Board of Sonshine Academy feel that it is important to let the Mt. Pleasant community know of our reasons behind this decision.
First of all, Sonshine Academy is opened for business as usual, and by the grace of God we will be for many years to come! In fact, we are very happy that both our three-year-old and four-year-old classes are full (36 students)!
We have enjoyed over 10 years of providing a strongly Christ-centered preschool education to the students the Lord has sent to us. We make it very clear to our students and their parents that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be the very core of our curriculum. The Biblical accounts of the creation and flood are used to help illustrate various animals, letters, colors, etc. When we teach numbers, Biblical accounts are used to help illustrate that concept.
When a classmate is sick or hurt, or when we hear an ambulance or fire truck go by, we stop to pray for God’s peace and strength to be upon all involved. When one classmate might wrong another, we talk about saying, “I’m sorry,” and replying “I forgive you.” All this is centered in the comforting knowledge that by His suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus has forgiven us.
When we sit down at snack time we pray for God’s blessings upon our food and thank Him for all His goodness and mercy toward us.
We gather once a week in the church proper for chapel time. We cannot compartmentalize Jesus. He’s not just a brief portion of our day. He is our entire day – every hour, every minute.
All of this would be gone if we were to enter into the SWVPP, not because of anything that the MPCSD has done, not at all, they do great work. It’s because of the guidelines handed down by the State of Iowa, and MPCSD is bound by these same guidelines. The following items are quoted directly from the FAQ page of the State-Wide Voluntary Preschool Program:
I. Collaborating with Community Partners
Q1: Can a district contract with a faith-based agency to provide the SWVPP?
A: Yes, school districts may partner with faith-based religious preschools for the provision of SWVPP as long as the faith-based agency meets the requirements of Chapter 16, is located within the school district boundaries and as long as the SWVPP funding supports instruction that is “secular, neutral, and non-ideological.”
• All faith-based partners must ensure that, from the time instruction supported by Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program funds starts until the time such instruction ends, no religious instruction takes place. There is to be no interruption (no “sprinkling”) of such instructional time for any faith-based purpose. An arrangement with a faith-based entity or organization to provide statewide voluntary preschool programming shall not violate the following:
• First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause (i.e., a child is not compelled to participate in any religious instruction or activity);
• First Amendment’s Establishment Clause (i.e., public funds are not used to support religious instruction).
Q2: Is the faith-based preschool program required to remove non-secular icons (such as crosses or statues) from the classroom?
A: Non-secular icons may remain in the preschool classroom; however, these items may not be included in or alluded to during conversation or instruction during the ten hours of SWVPP.
Because of these guidelines; because we strongly believe and confess Jesus Christ as the very center of our lives; because we believe that any attempt to follow the above State of Iowa guidelines would work against the mission of Sonshine Academy and would be a compromise of our confession of faith; after much prayer and conversation, the elders and council of Faith Lutheran Church and the board of Sonshine Academy Preschool have made the decision to not participate in the State-Wide Voluntary Preschool Program.
We certainly pray that the Lord would bless the efforts of the Mt. Pleasant Community School District (especially in the preschool area) and Sonshine Academy as together we seek to prepare the children of our community for lives of service.
We would be happy to discuss this further with anyone in the community. Please stop by the church at 910 E. Mapleleaf Drive. The coffee pot brews fairly quickly!
The Rev. Michael R. Scudder is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church & Sonshine Academy Preschool in Mt. Pleasant.