Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

School district votes on end to free Bibles

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Pembina Trails trustees will vote tonight on ending the distribution of Gideon Bibles to Grade 5 students.

If the Pembina Trails board pulls the plug, River East Transcona will be the only city division that still allows Gideons to provide Bibles to children whose parents consent in writing.

Pembina Trails board chair woman Dianne Zuk said a board committee's recommendation to end the relationship with the Christian organization comes from a combination of lack of parent interest and concerns over one religion being recognized in increasingly diverse schools.

"There had been questions raised by some families," Zuk said. "We consult -- we go to our school communities and to our employee groups."

Zuk said parents of only 29 children out of 947 kids enrolled in Grade 5 last year responded to forms sent home. The principal would hand out the Bibles privately to children whose parents requested them, she said.

Seven Oaks, Winnipeg, St. James-Assiniboia and Louis Riel all previously ended the practice. River East Transcona had no one familiar with the Gideons' relationship with its schools available for an interview Wednesday.

Officials at Gideon International of Canada's Guelph headquarters didn't respond to an interview request Wednesday.

"It's never been an in-depth discussion among divisions around the province," Portage la Prairie School Division superintendent Hazen Barrett said Wednesday. "We've never even discussed it around the superintendents' table."

Barrett said Portage la Prairie schools still allow access to the Gideons, but they would not directly deliver Bibles to children, as was commonly done in classrooms years ago.

"They'd leave them" at the school for staff to distribute, Barrett said. "Our arrangement with the Gideons is it's not done during class."

Barrett said "very few" parents requested Bibles last year. When he last taught seven years ago, "There wasn't very much of an uptake."

Garden Valley superintendent Vern Reimer said there is no policy covering Winkler schools, which decide at a school level how they will handle the Gideons' distribution. The Gideons ask each principal what would work for that school, and the principal runs the plans by the school advisory council before sending the consent forms home, Reimer said.

"It was the vast majority -- in some years, it would be all the children," Reimer said.

Garden Valley allows the Gideons to come into the school and address the children receiving the Bibles, Reimer said.

"It's a short presentation. They come in and do a short explanation only with those accepting."

Reimer said given the technology available and kids' familiarity with it, an increasing number of children read the Bible online.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2012 A6

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