33 Religious Groups Join Riley in Seeking Greater Family Role in Schools

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Nearly three dozen religious leaders put aside theological differences to join Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley in a holiday-season declaration supporting family involvement in education.

And while their "Statement of Common Purpose" was short on specifics, officials from the 33 religious groups that signed the document say the event could encourage future interdenominational efforts in education.

It is "imperative," says the document, that church communities join government, business, parents, and schools in helping all families participate in their children's education.

The statement, released at a Dec. 16 press briefing here, does not address such touchy issues as school prayer or sex education, however.

"On school prayer, we're probably divided," Forest Montgomery, the counsel for the National Association of Evangelicals, told reporters. "We're brought here today in the interest of educating America's children."

Mr. Riley said the effort would help promote the parent-involvement initiative he launched in September, which includes research, publicizing successful family-oriented programs, and getting information to parents.

It was during meetings on the initiative that the idea of convening religious groups to talk about family involvement evolved, said Michelle L. Doyle, the director of the Education Department's office of private education.

"People would say that churches were a group that needed to be involved if we wanted to reach families," Ms. Doyle said.

Follow-Up Activities

Mr. Riley added that religious leaders came to a "clear recognition" that the religious community can play a "more active and positive role" in helping parents educate their children.

Ms. Doyle said the department may follow up by working with the religious organizations to provide instructional materials for parents. The department also hopes to provide an educational guide for ministers as well as meeting space for future activities arranged by the religious groups.

Asked about the political overtones of reaching out to church groups, Ms. Doyle said: "The Secretary made it clear he was not asking them to stand up with him and support all Administration initiatives. This is about families."

Theodore R. Drahmann, the director of education for the Christian Brothers Conference, called the document an "important manifesto" for administrators and teachers. The statement will be sent to the 107 schools coordinated by the conference, he said.

"I'm delighted they did this," said Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "Our work will be invigorated because of the work they did."

Vol. 14, Issue 16

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