Landmark Federal Ruling Involves Jefferson County School Officials

Jul 25, 2013

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that a federal judge has ruled that the Jefferson County school district violated the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. That clause prohibits the government from establishing an official religion.   

In 2003, the Jefferson County school system decided to outsource the education of  students assigned to its alternative school, in order to save money. The students were sent to Kingswood School in Bean Station, Grainger County. Kingswood is a nonprofit Christian organization.    

Teachers with the Jefferson County alternative school filed suit.

In the landmark ruling, US District Judge Thomas Phillips says though Kingswood did not require students to attend church services or receive religious instruction as part of the curriculum, the school is clearly a Christian-based organization. Therefore, the Jefferson County School Board violated the Establishment Clause.

Former Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Doug Moody said the county paid Kingswood about $280,000 a year to teach the alternative school students. It cost Jefferson County more than $350,000 to teach the students at its alternative school.

Jefferson County schools must pay damages of more than $79,000 to the teachers who are involved in the lawsuit and may have to pay attorneys’ fees as well. The county is appealing the ruling.