A family whose daughter recently graduated from a northeast Iowa school district is appealing to the state over what they say is inappropriate religious music performed by the public school choir.
The concern includes songs such as “In This Very Room,” which the choir performed as a concert’s last selection, holding hands and forming a circle around the audience.
The parents, who were named only by initials in the complaint, claim such songs endorse Christianity and point to lyrics such as: “For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.”
They brought concerns to the New Hampton School Board in January, which decided in March to continue the practices. The 980-student New Hampton Community School District, about 40 miles north of Waterloo, serves a predominantly Christian community.
“We had consulted with our legal advisers, and the school board felt we were within the law in doing things correctly,” New Hampton Superintendent Jay Jurrens said.
The school board also received a petition with 582 signatures supporting the choir’s songs and practices, which included a “Church Tour” where students perform in churches in the community.
The school board’s decision was appealed by an administrative law judge, who upheld the decision. The Iowa Board of Education will consider the case at its meeting Thursday.
Staci Hupp, the education department’s spokeswoman, said the state has no administrative rules regarding religious music in schools. The two sides relied on case law to make their arguments, and if the family chooses, they could appeal the Board of Education’s decision to district court.
Administrative Law Judge Nicole Proesch, who is also the education department’s attorney, is recommending that the school district be allowed to continue the musical selections and traditions.
According to a legal document detailing the case, the concerns by parents J.T. and J.K. date back to 2011-12, when their daughter was a freshman and they first heard “In This Very Room” performed.
The music director said that the song was selected by students years before, after they heard it performed at a choir festival at Luther College, and had asked for it to be included. Over the years, the tradition of holding hands during the song was also initiated by students, the document said.
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