Catholic schools doing the right thing

I’ve had a lot of disagreements with the Catholic Church on policy matters lately, but this is something I applaud.

The organization that represents Texas’ Catholic high schools on Thursday called for a comprehensive review of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, calling TAPPS’ treatment of Jewish and Muslim schools unacceptable.

“Failure to sufficiently improve the structure and management of TAPPS will require a re-examination of our 43 Catholic schools’ continued affiliation with TAPPS,” wrote Margaret McGettrick, education director of the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department.

Those schools represent 20 percent of TAPPS’ membership.

She urged that a review committee represent the association’s “denominational, institutional and geographic diversity, to ensure that the issues and concerns of all members are accounted for and addressed.”

The letter follows TAPPS’ refusal – until it was sued – to reschedule its state basketball playoffs to accommodate a Class 2A boys team from Beren Academy in Houston. It also cites TAPPS’ rejection of a Houston Muslim school, the Iman Academy, for membership.

The story of the Imam Academy’s effort to join TAPPS is here, and it does not make the organization look good.

Iman Academy principal Cindy Steffens said the school, which has about 500 students, wanted the chance to compete in athletics and academics against other private schools. It applied for membership in 2010 and after an interview process was rejected.


Steffens said she almost chose not to move forward with the application after receiving a questionnaire that contained what she called “loaded and provocative” questions from the association.

The Houston Chronicle obtained the email sent to the school, and the questions included, “Historically, there is nothing in the Koran that fully embraces Christianity or Judaism in the way a Christian and/or Jew understands religion. Why, then, are you interested in joining an association whose basic beliefs your religion condemns?

“It is our understanding that the Koran tells you not to mix with (and even eliminate) the infidels. Christians and Jews fall into that category. Why do you wish to join an organization whose membership is in disagreement with your beliefs?”

The questions also asked about celebrating Christmas, whether Muslims believe the Bible is corrupt and about the “spread of Islam in America.”

In 2004, at least two other Islamic schools withdrew themselves from consideration after receiving the same questionnaire.

Steffens said the apparent prejudice against Muslims was disheartening throughout the interview process.

“It’s about our children and our generation,” she said. “You know what’s really scary – if this is what we are teaching in our private schools. This is a board representing private schools in Texas. Is this how the majority of private schools think?”

Thankfully, it’s not what the Catholic schools, who probably know a little bit about being on the receiving end of such intolerance, think. You can see the letter they sent to TAPPS Executive Director Edd Burleson at Hair Balls. Burleson says TAPPS is surveying its members to better understand what direction they want to go, and that is a good first step. I hope they keep going that way. State Sen. Rodney Ellis sent a letter of his own to Burleson after the Imam Academy story ran; I’ve got it beneath the fold. As that earlier story notes, any action TAPPS takes may not be the end of this:

Jeremy Warren, spokesman for state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the senator is discussing potential legislation that would help prevent situations like what happened with the Jewish and Islamic schools.

“It’s an interesting situation – a private entity dealing with a private institution but they use public facilities,” Warren said.

And as long as they do use public facilities, the Lege should ensure that they are following state non-discrimination laws. I hope TAPPS recognizes the need for that before any such laws get passed.

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following letter to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, urging greater sensitivity in their membership interview and decision-making process.

March 9, 2012

Mr. Edd Burleson
Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools
601 North Main
P.O. Box 1039
Salado, TX 76571

Dear Mr. Burleson:

I write to express my concern over the treatment of Iman Academy’s effort to join the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools. These young Texans simply want the opportunity to compete with their peers across the state, and I am troubled by not just their rejection for membership but the reported insensitivity with which it occurred.

For the second time in a week, the views and rules of your organization have clashed with the reality of a changing Texas and have put your organization center stage in the discussion of religious freedom and the best interest of our children. I know you and TAPPS understand the importance of athletic competition in the development of young people in their journey toward adulthood; after all, it is one of the main goals of TAPPS. What I fear you fail to understand is the role athletics play in breaking down barriers and bridging the differences between peoples and cultures, and how your decisions can further prejudice and discrimination.

Throughout history, athletic competition has been played a huge role in bringing people together. From Jackie Robinson to Billie Jean King, Tiger Woods to Jeremy Lin, sports have helped us see the best in ourselves and the similarities we have with those of different backgrounds and beliefs. Even today, Hakeem Olajuwon – an African and Muslim – remains one of the most popular figures in Houston and all of Texas, which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. No law, no speech and no sermon from the pulpit does more to unite people and teach the valuable lessons of community than competing on the playing field. The next revered superstar could be playing at Iman Academy, or Beren Academy. Or, more likely, two young people who have grown up distrustful of someone of another culture could meet on the court and gain more understanding and respect for their fellow person and neighbor.

That is what sports do for us.

Texas is an incredibly diverse and multi-cultural state, and is growing more so literally every day. These conflicts and confusions are only going to become more commonplace in the decade ahead as Texas grows and changes further. Now is the time for your organization to put in place better and more open guidelines and bylaws to prevent further embarrassing and insensitive incidents that put both TAPPS and Texas in a negative light. I would like to renew my invitation to host a lunch with yourself and TAPPS Board Members to discuss how we can prevent these issues from reoccurring. I ask that you contact my office at your convenience.


Rodney Ellis

CC: Bryan Bunselmeyer, Associate Director
Jon LeBrasseur, President, Place 3
Linda Wolfe, Vice President, Place 5
Robert Huckabee, Place 9
Steve Prud’homme, Place 8
Scott Vaughan, Place 7
Robert Gerhardt, Place 6
James Johnson, Place 4
Brenda Russell, Place 2
Dana Beal, Place 1

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4 Responses to Catholic schools doing the right thing

  1. Ross says:

    Finally, something good from Ellis, who is usually a waste of space. It would have been better to include a threat to stop TAPPS from using public facilities.

  2. Pingback: slacktivist » Sticking up for other people’s rights

  3. Pingback: I think we’ve found the problem at TAPPS – Off the Kuff

  4. Pingback: slacktivist » Justice means sticking up for other people

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