FFRF asks for probe of Oakland charter school

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has contacted the Office of the General Counsel of Oakland Unified School District in the wake of complaints it received over the proselytizing nature of a recent assembly at E.C. Reems Academy, Oakland, Calif., intended to honor Jahi McMath.

FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based state/church watchdog, has nearly 20,000 nonreligious members nationwide and about 3,100 in California.

Jahi, the 13-year-old girl who has been declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy went tragically wrong, was a student at the charter school, which serves mostly disadvantaged children.

“What happened to Jahi is a terrible tragedy and all hearts go out to her suffering relatives and friends. But such tragedies are not an excuse to violate the Constitution,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a joint letter to Laura O’Neill, Office of the General Counsel, and Brian Reems, board president of E.C. Reems Academy.

FFRF is calling for an investigation into the assembly, attended by students as young as kindergarten, during which Principal Lisa Blair said “she tried to honor Jahi’s family’s wishes by telling students that their classmate may still be alive, even though doctors say she is legally and clinically dead,” according to KNTV reporter Lisa Fernandez’s story. FFRF has been informed that an investigative meeting reviewing the situation here will be held by EC Reems as a result of its letter.

“Students responded with an outpouring of faith,” reported Fernandez. A death certificate has been issued.

Blair told the reporter, “Most kids are Christian here, and they believe that if you continue praying, there’s always a possibility. The students understand the debate. They’re just choosing spirituality over science.”

Clearly, it’s Blair who’s choosing spirituality over science, said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who maintains the children are too young to “understand the debate.”

One of Jahi’s friends, who attended the assembly, told the reporter, “The school told us that she’s not officially dead yet. And we should keep her in our prayers. I still hope, and God has the last say-so.”

FFRF’s detailed letter of complaint said it’s inappropriate for school staff to distribute 250 T-shirts to students saying “Keep Calm, Pray on” (also emblazoned with #TeamJahi”) to students at the assembly. The letter said staff should be told not to wear the shirts during instructional time.

FFRF dismissed any argument that the assembly was voluntary. It involved young children, and students shouldn’t have to excuse themselves from an assembly to honor a classmate in order to avoid inappropriate religious content.

FFRF wants appropriate disciplinary action and for the action to be part of the record when the charter school application renewal is examined, along with assurances that religious beliefs will not be further injected into the school day.

“The school is inflicting trauma upon tragedy by suggesting that it’s within the power of Jahi’s classmates to resuscitate her,” FFRF charged.

“It’s unscientific, unethical and irresponsible to suggest to a captive audience of impressionable, grieving students that wishful thinking can suspend natural laws, and even raise the dead.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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