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Superintendent under fire after sending letter to area churches asking for 'prayers' for the district

Posted at 6:50 AM, Feb 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-11 06:50:31-05

ELLETSVILLE — A Monroe County superintendent is being criticized after he sent a letter to local churches asking them to pray for the school district.

The letter from Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation Superintendent Jerry Sanders was posted on Facebook by Turning Point Apostolic Church.

Sanders told the Herald-Times that he sent letters to 20 different Christian churches in the area back in December, as part of his plan to generate local support for the district.

In the letters, Sanders asked the churches to pray for him as he leads the schools and to pray for the safety of the students and staff.

"God will bless RBBSC with a strong partnership between school and home," the letter said.

Sanders has been superintendent of the district since November.

School board leaders say the letter was inappropriate, because it was written on a district letter head.

"The letter that Dr. Sanders sent out was a personal letter to the pastors," School Board President Dana Kerr wrote. "Such a letter should not have been sent on RBBCSC letterhead.

Kerr emphasized that the district is a public school corporation that is neutral on religion. The school board would be tasked with considering any disciplinary measures regarding the letter, which would be kept confidential because it's a personnel matter, he said.

Sanders said he's open with his faith and doesn't see an issue with the letter.

"I think it's important to point out that I did not send this letter out to R-BB parents, students or staff," he said. "I believe as superintendent it's my job to provide our students with a safe, educational public place to attend school, and that is for all students."

Becky Hillenburg, an Edgewood Junior High School science teacher, said she supports Sanders' move.

"It wasn't like he was knocking on your door to try to convert you to his religion," she said. "Whether you believe it or not, it's not hurting anyone to pray for us."

But Jimmy Moore, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Bloomington, disagreed.

"To do this in his official capacity on corporation letterhead reflects a misunderstanding of the Constitution, and his role as an educator in a public school system," he said.