Pine River board debates "In God We Trust" on school sign

LEROY — School improvement and development was discussed at the Pine River Area Schools Board of Education meeting on Dec. 9, with issues of debate dotting the agenda and promoting discussion among board members and community members.

Board members voted 7-0 to reinstate the national motto on the school sign created by LeRoy High School alumnus Carl Gustafson. The sign was placed in front of the school in early July, bearing the motto “In God We Trust.” While Pine River Area Schools Superintendent Jim Ganger previously made the decision to remove the phrase from the sign after being approached by community members stating concern of religious favor, the issue was again brought to the board’s attention.

Community members spoke of the issue during public comment. John and Joanne Iler both spoke in favor of leaving the phrase off the school sign.

“Is the purpose of the sign to show location or to be a billboard marquee?” Joanne Iler asked the committee.

Don Hoitinga, among others, spoke in favor of reinstating the words. “We come from a rich Christian heritage,” Hoitinga said. “It is against the constitution to remove those words, since it is our national motto.”

Most community members left after the decision on the sign was made.

Michigan Department of Education Excel program representative Christina Siwik reported on Pine River’s “focus school” status. According to the representative, a Top to Bottom ranking of Michigan schools had revealed that Pine River was among the bottom 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gap between top and bottom performing students.

The MDE has been working with staff and administration to correct the large achievement gap. At this stage of the four year program, math and reading challenges were identified. A math plan has been developed to improve students’ math MEAP scores. The program promises to complete a reading plan, data dialogue and area examination during the remainder of the school year, Siwik said.

The new sexual education curriculum for 10th grade was approved by board members, 5-2. The new curriculum was created based on a school survey which revealed that 20.8 percent of ninth graders had been sexually active at least once, a percentage that increased to 50 percent in eleventh grade students. While the state mandates that abstinence should be the standard for all curriculum, sophomores at Pine River High School will now also receive information about “safe sex,” with detailed information on contraception.

Board members expressed that the ultimate emphasis should be on abstinence, and that parents should talk to their children before any sexual education occurs. Board members opposed to the motion cited that the information might give students a glorified perception of effective contraception.