Frisco ISD: Attorney General's Letter On Prayer Room Is A 'Publicity Stunt' | KERA News

Frisco ISD: Attorney General's Letter On Prayer Room Is A 'Publicity Stunt'

Mar 17, 2017

Frisco Superintendent Jeremy Lyon responded sharply to questions about Liberty High School's prayer room Friday, calling a letter from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office "a publicity stunt."

Editor's note: This post has been updated.

The letter from Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie raised constitutional questions about the prayer room for Muslim students that was featured last week in a KERA News series.

School district officials tell KERA that this is a student-led effort that violates no state or federal law. The superintendent's statement requested proof that the attorney general's office had contacted the district before sending out a press release about its concerns over the prayer room.

"Absent such evidence, this 'Press Release' appears to be a publicity stunt by the OAG to politicize a 'non-issue', " Lyon wrote.

In the letter to Lyon, Leonie wrote that the attorney general's "initial inquiry left several questions unresolved."

Lyon's letter cites KERA's story in which Liberty's principal Scott Warstler said that other students could use the prayer room. 

"As the article confirmed, the reason for the prayer room is to accommodate the practices of students who would otherwise miss two hours of class time to travel once a week to and from prayer," Lyon wrote. "The District is prohibited from failing to reasonably accommodate and/or discriminating against these students because their religion dictates the time and manner of their prayer."

Lyon also said in his letter that the district is "greatly concerned that this type of inflammatory rhetoric in the current climate may place the District, its students, staff, parents and community in danger of unnecessary disruption."

See Superintendent Lyon's entire letter below.

In the KERA American Graduate series, “Race, Poverty and the Changing Face of Schools,” Stella M. Chavez reported that Liberty’s prayer room was started for Muslim students who previously had to miss hours of school every week to pray in a Plano mosque several miles away. Liberty let those students use an empty classroom.

In the letter on Attorney General Office stationery, Leonie expressed concern that the room may not be available to students of other faiths:

“Liberty High School’s policy should be neutral toward religion. However, it appears that students are being treated differently based on their religious beliefs. Such a practice, of course, is irreconcilable with our nation’s enduring commitment to religious liberty.”

While the letter also applauded Liberty’s commitment to student-led religious groups, it asked that school officials ensure that the prayer room is accessible to students of all religious denominations.

“They’re not out proselytizing," Liberty Principal Warstler told KERA in the earlier story. "Honestly, if others wanted to go in and learn to see and experience that, our students are okay with that. It’s not an exclusive club or exclusive group.”  

Response from Frisco ISD

A Frisco ISD spokesperson told KERA the prayer room at Liberty High School has always been open to all students.

"I assure you that that room is accessible to all students of all denominations, all walks of faith, all cultures, all ethnicities, and I assure you that that is in place," said Chris Moore, the executive director of communications and community relations for Frisco ISD. 

The prayer room is actually a classroom that is used during a teacher's conference period. Students are allowed to go in there for 30 minutes since it is not being used for instruction during that time, Moore said.

"It's an opportunity for us to reach out and interact with that diversity and embrace that diversity within the guidelines provided us by the state and within the Texas Education Agency, and keep students within the school," he said.

Moore also said this is the first time the district has heard from the attorney general's office regarding the issue. He added the district would've liked the opportunity to clarify the confusion before the letter was sent out.

The full letter from the Attorney General's office

The full letter from Frisco Superintendent Jeremy Lyon

Frisco Isd Response to Attorney General Letter by KERANews on Scribd

This story is being updated.