Conn. School Board Agrees to No Longer Hold Graduations at Church

A Connecticut school board that had been in a legal fight over whether they could hold graduation ceremonies at a nearby church building has decided to reach a settlement wherein they stop the practice.

The Enfield Board of Education voted 6-3 on Wednesday evening to accept a settlement in which the school system agrees to no longer hold graduations at First Cathedral Church.

The settlement came in response to a lawsuit filed in 2010 on behalf of a couple high school students and their parents by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Jeanne Leblanc, Communications and Education manager for the ACLU of Connecticut, told The Christian Post that she was "pleased" with the decision.

"We're very pleased. It protects the constitutional rights of students and their families and allows the town to concentrate on education instead of litigation," said Leblanc.

Years back, in part due to construction and space issues, Enfield BOE allowed for schools to hold graduation ceremonies at a nearby church building.

In 2007, Fermi High School held its graduation ceremony pending the completion of a new athletic complex and Enfield high school had their ceremonies for 2008 and 2009 at the church.

In May 2010, the lawsuit was filed and in June U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall issued an injunction preventing Enfield from holding graduations at religious facilities. From then on, Enfield schools held graduations at their facilities.

On Wednesday evening, the Enfield BOE held a special meeting in response to a letter by its insurance carrier CIRMA asking for the board's agreement to a settlement with the ACLU and Americans United.

Enfield BOE member Donna Szewczak provided CP with an agenda for the meeting. This agenda included a letter from Dr. Jeffrey A Schumann, superintendent for Enfield Public Schools, to the BOE outlining CIRMA's request for consent.

"The settlement agreement states that it is a compromise of a disputed claim and that Enfield Schools are not admitting any wrongdoing or negligence," wrote Schumann.

"Enfield Public Schools would agree to a permanent injunction preventing the district from holding future graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral."

As part of the settlement, CIRMA will pay Americans United approximately $465,000.

In return, the litigation against Enfield will stop. Further, should the United States Supreme Court issue a decision declaring the use of religious buildings for public graduations constitutional, Enfield can request a modification of the injunction.

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, told CP that with the settlement there is a guarantee that Enfield will no longer use churches for graduation ceremonies.

"If not for the lawsuit, the schools would very likely have continued using the church," said Luchenitser.

"Without the settlement, the schools could certainly have resumed holding graduations at the church. In any event, the court's 2010 decision is an important precedent that clarified the law on this issue."