Portland school board says no choirs at The Grotto – kgw.com
School board says no to choirs at The Grotto
PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Public School choirs will no longer be allowed to perform at the Grotto’s Festival of Lights.
On Tuesday night, the school board voted to maintain the ban implemented by the school district last month.
The ban came after an out-of-state group called Freedom From Religion complained that the district’s participation in the festival, promoted religion.
Board members Pam Knowles, Paul Anthony and Amy Kohnstamm voted to drop the ban. Julie Esparaza Brown, Mike Rosen, Tom Koehler and Steve Buel voted to uphold it.
Cheryl Kolbe, president of Freedom From Religion’s Portland chapter, was pleased with the board’s decision.
“Certainly, no one can argue that it isn’t nice for (students) to sing in a place with great acoustics,” said Kolbe. “But it isn’t fair to do the wrong thing just because it has some benefit.”
Grant High School graduate Jennifer O’Leary started an online petition defending school choir participation at the Grotto. By Tuesday it had collected more than 3,500 signatures.
“I think that (the board) swung too far in the other direction,” said O’Leary. “To take an opportunity away from everyone because some people have a problem with it… where do you stop?”
O’Leary said she’s trying to organize a community choir to give PPS students a different opportunity to sing at the Grotto.
“We are definitely rallying the troops,” said O’Leary, a professional singer who grew up performing at The Grotto. “Maybe there’s an alternative,” she said.
O’Leary says her ideas include working with the Grotto to see if entrance fees could be waived, since there’s concern that money from the performances is getting funneled back into a religious site.
Kolbesays there are other issues with that option.
“They’re still singing in a very religious setting,” said Kolbe. “Schools should not be giving the perception of promoting a particular religion.”
O’Leary’s other idea?
“To start a community choir that would remove Portland Public Schools from any legal issues,” said O’Leary. “I’ve had dozens already reach out.”
While O’Leary is thinking hard about options, other school districts are also thinking hard.
“We hope these school districts will look at the Portland example,” said Kolbe.
KGW reached out to a number of districts involved with performances at the Grotto. The Hillsboro School District sent us a statement saying, “Hillsboro School District currently has no plans to restrict our choirs from performing at the Grotto this holiday season if they so choose. While we certainly understand and value the Establishment Clause, we try to strike a balance between strict interpretations of the law and providing our students with equitable access to a wide range of opportunities both in school and in our community. All students have the ability to opt out of performing at the The Grotto, or any other location that poses an affront to their personal beliefs, without penalty.”
Kolbe said the Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent letters to roughly 25 school districts involved in performing at The Grotto.
The Grotto’s Executive Director, Tom Fullmer, said they’ve received a few phone calls from a few school districts unsure of what to do next.
Other top headlines:
Keep up with the latest news in Portland and beyond. Tap to get our free KGW News app!
Read or Share this story: https://on.kgw.com/1NqEgay