When the Cedar Falls Board of Education signed off on a deal to use space in a church building for preschool programming, it could never have envisioned a letter of protest from an outside entity.
Then came the letter and email from Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based nonprofit group Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"This is exactly the kind of entanglement that the founders of our country did not want to have," Gaylor said. "...This deal is at taxpayers' expense and it is unacceptable in our opinion."
Last week, the board approved a $61,940 construction contract to remodel space inside Kaio Church, at 815 Orchard Drive, located next door to Southdale Elementary.
The project includes converting a janitor's closet into a handicap-accessible restroom, adding two preschool-age handicap accessible restrooms, installing emergency exits in the classroom spaces and other improvements that would bring the space up to code.
"We think there should be an uproar in the community over this plan," Gaylor said. "Tax money should not go to further religious aims."
It's not. It's going to expand space for the district's preschool programming.
"To my knowledge there is no basis in fact for what the letter is alleging," said Superintendent David Stoakes. "Separation has to do with programming, not the facility. We are not going to be propagating any religion in our preschool program."
It's not uncommon for churches to be in close proximity of elementary school buildings. That's how neighborhoods were formed. Church buildings generally have spaces that can be utilized by the community. It's also relatively common for districts to enter into property agreements with churches, or to make code-conforming improvements to any properties they use - like the city-owned building that housed the district's alternative school for many years.
Gaylor also voiced her concern that the students will be exposed to religious paraphernalia, which will get "mixed up in their minds."
We assume the district wouldn't have heard from Gaylor had it come to an agreement to lease space from a bar or a strip joint. The building next door to Southdale, however, happened to be a church.
It matters little what kind of church, or what denomination, because it's simply space the district can use for legitimate preschool programming.
To us, the agreement shines as a bright example of a community and business partnership.