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Parents oppose field trip to Christian camp

April 21, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Fifth-graders at three Waynesboro Area School District elementary schools are finding themselves in the middle of a religious controversy over a planned visit to an environmental camp next week.

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Waynesboro parents Bonnie Osman and Carl Silverman are complaining the district is violating separation of church and state by sending the students to a Christian camp in Fairfield, Pa., for an environmental studies field trip.

The camp is filled with religious icons, including crosses, that should not be allowed in a secular school learning environment, said Silverman, an agnostic who has gotten attention with a similar protest in Hagerstown, Md.

Osman could not be reached for comment.

Schools Superintendent Robert Mesaros said Wednesday the camp was chosen because it offers the best educational program for the students. Among the instructors will be a teacher from the camp, Mesaros said.

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"The camp has a fine program, it's nearby and it fits the needs of the schools' science programs. They are going there for secular purposes," Mesaros said. "They have excellent nature trails and trained naturalists. There will be no religious entanglements."

Students from Hooverville, Mowrey and Fairfield Avenue elementary schools are scheduled for the field trip. Those from Hooverville and Mowrey will stay overnight at the camp, Mesaros said.

Silverman said he, the Hooverville Elementary principal, and the elementary science coordinator for the district visited the camp two weeks ago. It is run by the Church of the Brethren.

Osman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Silverman, who got publicity recently by protesting a Hagerstown Suns baseball promotion in which discounts were given to fans who brought in church bulletins, raised several objections to making the camp the field trip destination.

Silverman said the district could send the students to the Renfrew Farm Museum in Waynesboro, to the Tayamentasachta Environmental Center in the Greencastle-Antrim School District, to Cowens Gap State Park or another public facility in the area. "Instead, the only fall trip this year for the Hooverville fifth-graders will be to a Christian church camp," he said.

Silverman said he contacted the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State and is waiting for a response.

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