3000 Orange Blossom Drive, Naples, FL
COLLIER COUNTY — Separation of church and state is a doctrine school districts try to follow.
The Collier County School District follows it, except when it comes to trying to host a meeting for all of its teachers.
The district is hosting a welcome back program for teachers Monday at the First Baptist Church in North Naples.
The reason for holding the meeting in a church, district officials said, is space. But that didn’t stop several teachers from contacting the Daily News angry that the district would even consider having a meeting in a church.
“I think this is both a major political and religious violation of church and state laws and a slap in the face to the advocacy for public education,” wrote Sharon Hardman in a letter to the editor submitted Wednesday.
Shari Huene-Johnson, coordinator of leadership development programs for the district, said the church was chosen because it is the only place that can accommodate teachers from the district’s 50 schools.
“We are also doing a presentation that involves a lot of technology and First Baptist has two screens for us to use,” she said. “There is nothing religious about it. There are just no venues here for us to hold the presentation.”
The church’s sanctuary can accommodate 2,000 people. The School Board meeting room in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center has 277 seats.
The district is paying $250 for custodial costs, Huene-Johnson said.
Jonathan Tuttle, executive director of the Collier County Education Association, which represents the teachers, said his organization has received a few phone calls and e-mails about the meeting. He said he understands the district’s desire to hold two meetings at one location rather than trying to schedule three or more sessions with teachers at a smaller venue.
“I am sure if there is anyone with serious moral or religious objections out there, the district will make accommodations for them,” he said.
But Huene-Johnson said Superintendent Dennis Thompson has made this a mandatory meeting for all teachers.
The teachers are going to First Baptist Church Naples to listen to a presentation by Ted McCain. McCain is an associate director at the Thornburg Center For Professional Development in Chicago, Ill. In this role, according to his biography, he shares with educators around North America his passion for the critical need for schools to adapt to the new digital reality in order to prepare the next generation for life in the 21st century.