A Wisconsin school district and a group of parents overseeing a weekly "Jesus Lunch" are at odds over the running of the Christian event for students.
Each Tuesday during their lunch break hundreds of Middleton High School students attend a parent-led luncheon at nearby Fireman's Park that includes Christian worship and discussion.
Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District sent a letter Tuesday to parents regarding concerns about the Jesus Lunch gatherings not properly following district rules.
"The school district's concerns related to this event come down to policy expectations that MCPASD maintains — policies in place to ensure student safety, health and welfare," reads the letter.
"The policies in question include food handling, visitors to campus, and expectations around student organized events. We are in no way interested in opposing religious practice in otherwise legal circumstances."
Signed by Middleton High School Principal Steve Plank and District Superintendent Don Johnson, the letter also stated that officials were willing to allow events like Jesus Lunch under certain conditions.
"If students are interested in organizing student led activities, MHS staff are happy to work with them and will convey the district and school policies that govern activities. This, however, appears to be an event initiated by adults without approval by the school," continued the letter.
"Steve Plank once again asked the parents to stop holding these lunches. They refused, and continued to expand them. The school district's lease of Fireman's Park permits enforcement of school policies during school hours/days."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Johnson explained that since the Jesus Lunch gatherings are happening on property owned by the school, "it needs to follow our district policies, and the parents sponsoring the lunch are not following our policies."
Johnson also told CP that the issue has become "divisive" among families connected to the school, with officials attempting to compromise with the parents overseeing Jesus Lunch.
"The parents sponsoring the lunch met with the school principal once, and refused to look at alternatives. We have both in writing and verbally asked to meet with [them], their response has been 'talk to our attorney,'" said Johnson. "Again, we have several alternatives for students and parents to engage in religious discussions, conversations, and events within our school and district policies."
Organizers of the Jesus Lunch sent CP a statement which claimed the school district "has not yet approached us to discuss what we do or how the Jesus Lunch began. We have invited them to attend, but as of date they have declined."
"The question here is not us being in opposition to the school, but rather that we have a right to be in Fireman's Park. Although the school district contends that it is school grounds because they have a lease, the public still has a right to use the park during school hours," continued the statement.
"By law, the lease agreement between the city and the School District of Middleton does not privatize the park. The city of Middleton has sent us a letter this week and acknowledged our rental agreement of the pavilion at Fireman's Park."
Beth Williams, one of the organizers, told CP that the weekly gathering was created so that parents could have lunch with their kids and to have a 3 to 5-minute talk about the Bible.
Noting that the stated mission of the luncheon is "Food for the body. Nutrition for the soul," Williams described the success of Jesus Lunch as being "immeasurable."
"I can tell you that there is an excitement from the students. Many have said that it is a highlight of their week. Our numbers fluctuate weekly, but we have had up to 475 students attend on any given week," said Williams.
"The school officials have not really been very interested in finding out about the content of the Jesus Lunch. Since we are off school grounds, it does not really apply to school guidelines."