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Texas Catholic Conference Education Department

Before Beren

Meet Arlington Burton Adventist Academy, the school that had to deal with TAPPS’ reluctance to reschedule playoff games before Beren.

Before the Beren Academy boys basketball team captured national attention a few months ago, another school about 300 miles away lived a similar story.

But that school’s tale had a different ending.

While the Beren Stars eventually saw their season end with a loss in the state championship game, Arlington Burton Adventist Academy never got that chance in 2001.

Seventh-day Adventists, like many students at Beren, an Orthodox Jewish day school, observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, causing a conflict with state tournament scheduling.

“At 17 and 18, you want to play the game, and that’s really the thing you want to do,” said Gabriel Wade, a senior on Burton Academy’s 2001 team, which saw its season end with the forfeit of a playoff win. “But as you get older, you realize that you can set a standard and help the next guy. If that hadn’t happened to us and if Beren had been the first team that happened to, they probably wouldn’t have let them play.

“So I think it helped pave the way.”

After Burton forfeited another playoff win in 2004, the same fate nearly befell its soccer team in 2010. This time, however, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools made last-minute concessions. That precedent opened the door for Beren last month.

Burton’s experience, especially the exception that was made for them in 2010, was often mentioned during the Beren saga, but there were never many details about it that I could find. This story fills in the details, so I’m glad to find it. As was the case with Beren, the students who were affected by the decisions TAPPS made appear to have handled it with grace and maturity. We could all learn from these examples. Go read it, it’s worth your time.

Meanwhile, TAPPS members gathered together for a meeting to discuss future situations like those, among other things.

About four dozen administrators from as far away as Brownsville, Lubbock, Laredo and Houston met at a Central Texas convention center for what was described by several as a passionate but collegial meeting that they hope will help determine the future track of TAPPS, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools.

That future will include the appointment of a committee to review whether changes are needed in the TAPPS constitution and bylaws. However, there will be no immediate discussion of whether TAPPS should alter its membership guidelines or make scheduling accommodations to benefit schools where students observe days of worship other than Sunday.

Several administrators expressed support for Edd Burleson, the longtime TAPPS executive director, and said they hope TAPPS can take steps to improve its recent image in the wake of the controversy surrounding Beren Academy of Houston, where parents filed a lawsuit last month when the school’s basketball team was denied, briefly, a chance to move its playoff game scheduled during the Jewish Sabbath.

“There was no pounding of fists, no raising of voices,” said the Rev. Patrick Fulton, principal of Houston’s St. Thomas High School. “We are in this for the best interests of serving students.

“How we are going to do that is up for grabs, but we want to re-examine ourselves and make sure that we are serving students first and foremost.”

The athletic directors of both Beren and Burton were in attendance, and both of them had positive things to say about it afterward. I’m not convinced that the organization can solve its image problems while also being supportive of the main reason for those problems, but we’ll see. This meeting apparently resulted from the pushback from Catholic schools over TAPPS’ exclusionary policies, so kudos again to them for forcing the issue. I hope they can all come to a better understanding of each other.

I think we’ve found the problem at TAPPS

As is often the case, the problem starts at the top.

Edd Burleson, in full charge, didn’t bother to chew on the question. At age 77, the former small-town state champion football coach, who later served as the superintendent of a Dallas-area school district, made it clear he has neither the time nor patience for political correctness.

Rather, Burleson, who left public schools in 1989 and has served since in the leadership of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, spit out an answer he knew would raise eyebrows. When finished, he allowed a knowing nod and wry smile to punctuate his words.

“We shouldn’t have accepted them in the first place,” Burleson responded without hesitation.

“Them” is Beren Academy. And on the first full day of spring, three weeks after Beren and Burleson found themselves in the national and international spotlights, the TAPPS executive director was asked if he had any regrets about his handling of the situation.

“What else would you want me to say?” he asked. “Want me to come up with some politically correct gobbledygook? I can’t. I’m telling you that’s how I feel.”

Well, I guess that’s good for the rest of us to know. It’s certainly good for the other members of TAPPS to know.

In the wake of Burleson’s comments, the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department said the group continues to be committed to reforms that would ensure diversity among TAPPS membership.

“The comments attributed to Mr. Burleson in the media (Sunday) come as a surprise,” the group’s statement read. “At a meeting with representatives of member schools last week in Belton, Mr. Burleson reportedly conveyed his intention to listen to the concerns of member schools and resolve these issues – he even scheduled a second meeting in two weeks to discuss it further. If today’s comments are accurate, they are dramatically different from the impressions he gave a week ago.

“The Texas Catholic superintendents’ position remains the same. If the concerns are not satisfactorily resolved, Catholic schools will reconsider their future affiliation with TAPPS.”

See here for more on that. If TAPPS wants to change its name to the Texas Association of Schools With Approved Religions, they can do that. They’ll have a harder time finding public facilities to use for their sporting events if they do, but that would be their choice. Whether Edd Burleson likes it or not, we live in a diverse society. I don’t know how this is going to play out, but one way or another TAPPS is going to have to change to accommodate that. Whether they do it by recognizing reality or attempting to keep it at arm’s length remains to be seen.

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.

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