The Good News Club, a Christian-run group that once met for free at the Foose Elementary School in Harrisburg, Pa., is now fighting the Harrisburg School District in federal court to keep it that way after organizers were told they weren't providing a "community service" so could no longer meet at the school unless they paid an annual fee of $1,200.
"In the years that we have been in the school district, they have never charged us to use the school," said Brooke Morrison, organizer of the club and director of the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Dauphin County, in an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday. The club has been meeting at Foose Elementary School since the 2007-2008 academic year and had 38 participants the last time they met at the school.
The issue, according to the Fellowship's complaint, arose last August when the school district revised their use of facilities policy that grouped organizations using school facilities in various categories that would either exempt them from paying a fee or not. The classifications also determine liability and other factors as well. A "Class III" designation under the District's revised policy would exempt community groups from paying a fee to use public schools.
After Morrison filed the necessary paperwork to run the club at the school ahead of the 2012-2013 school year, he said he was granted permission to use the school but only upon paying an annual fee of $1,200.
"This is a prohibitively high sum of money for this non-profit, which serves the community free of charge, especially in light of Plaintiff's desire to offer Good News Clubs in other schools throughout the District as it had in the past," stated the complaint.
The complaint further notes that in the 2010-2011 academic year, Child Evangelism Fellowship was denied use of the facilities altogether because of the religious nature of the group.
Morrison said he also protested the District's non-exempt classification because other nonprofits such as the Boys Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs and the American Legion were given Class III classification and they did similar work.
"They (school district) told us we were 'not a community service'," said Morrison.
"There is no relevant distinction between Child Evangelism Fellowship and these other groups, for purposes of the fee exemption, except that Plaintiff is perceived by the District primarily to be a religious group, while the others are not," contends the Fellowship in its complaint.
Good News Clubs, noted the complaint, are freely accessible by all students regardless of race, gender or religious beliefs. The clubs provide children with good role models and a safe place to go after school. They are also taught about responsibility, virtue and maturity through Bible stories songs and games. To attend students must be granted permission by a parent or legal guardian.
The Christian Post reached out to the office of Harrisburg School District superintendent Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney on Tuesday but she was unavailable for comment. Randall Wenger, attorney with the Independence Law Center, that filed the complaint on behalf of the fellowship, said they have repeatedly sought dialogue with the School District and efforts to resolve the matter have been ignored. "At this point we have not heard anything from the School District," said Wenger to CP on Tuesday.