A Guide for Teachers, Students, Administrators, Staff, Parents, and the Community

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Every year, tens of thousands of parents from very diverse backgrounds entrust the education and well-being of their children to the Austin Independent School District. For this reason, everyone involved in the education of children - teachers, students, administrators, staff, parents, and the community - needs to understand the role of religion in public schools. That role is delineated by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of Grievances. U.S. Const. amend. I.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids both establishment of a state- endorsed religion and interference with free exercise of an individually chosen religion. Because of this, public schools may neither support nor denigrate any religion.

It is the policy of the Austin Independent School District not to allow any activity or action that would give the appearance of school support or endorsement of religion in general or of a specific religion, and to support, as far as is reasonable, the free, private exercise of individual religious beliefs by students and staff.

Some may feel that the District's policies regarding religious matters are unwelcoming, even hostile to religion and those who hold religious beliefs. Others may feel that the District's policies do not go far enough to protect students from coercion toward any particular religious belief. In fact, the purpose of the District's policies is to convey the District's deep and abiding respect for the beliefs of all of its students and staff. Because the District serves students of every creed and none, it must never appear to coerce students toward any particular belief.

This handbook provides information meant to foster understanding, tolerance, respect, and appreciation for Austin's diverse population. The District's staff and students are expected to treat other students and staff alike with respect for and sensitivity to individual beliefs. These materials are intended to provide a basis for understanding, a reference for instructors and administrators planning for the classroom, and a guide for community groups who want to understand the necessary limits of the role of religion in public education.

The success of this handbook is dependent on all those involved in the education of children. With everyone's efforts, a positive and productive atmosphere will be cultivated, and everyone can appreciate the opportunities provided by the District's exciting classroom diversity. It is our hope that this handbook will facilitate the development of a better Austin where teachers, students, administrators, staff, parents, and the community learn to thrive in our pluralistic society by building on the strength of our differences.