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W.Va. principal steps down

June 13, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Jefferson County, W.Va., high school principal said Tuesday his resignation is unrelated to graduation remarks he made that stirred a controversy.

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Richard A. "Doc" Keeler submitted a letter of resignation as principal of Jefferson High School four days after a June 4 graduation address in which he told students one of their life goals should be to "choose God."

Keeler, who has been Jefferson High's principal for two years, said he had decided before the graduation to step down for personal reasons, including a desire to spend more time with his family.

Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools David W. Markoe said Tuesday he does not believe the resignation was related to the controversy over the graduation speech.

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Keeler made the remarks after diplomas were handed out at Shepherd College's Butcher Center on June 4. Keeler said he told students there are three important choices they will make in life: To choose God, choose a mate and choose a career.

Keeler said Tuesday he did not believe the comment posed a problem. He said the remark was no different than that made by students who, when reciting the pledge of allegiance, refer to "one nation, under God."

"I didn't go into specific religions. I didn't promote any denominations. I just made a statement. I don't want to make a big scene out of this," Keeler said.

Markoe said that the comment should not have been made, and that the school system is taking steps to make sure it does not happen again.

Markoe said he plans to meet with principals to stress that religious discussions must remain separate from public education.

"It should not have come up, but it did. We are not making any excuses for that," Markoe said.

Markoe said he received several letters complaining about the comments and phone calls from two people who supported Keeler's remarks.

One student said he walked out of the ceremony when Keeler made the comment.

"That cannot happen again. It needs to be made public so everyone realizes this is not acceptable," said senior Seth Raphael.

Raphael, in a letter to Markoe, wrote that he felt "extremely uncomfortable" when the comment was made.

Another writer suggested the remarks were not in keeping with the concept of separation of church and state.

It was not the first time references to God have been made during the high school's graduation, Markoe said.

At last year's exercises, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., spoke about God and held a Bible during his graduation speech, he said. Markoe said he thought someone might say something about Byrd's speech, but no one did.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is scheduled to meet today to accept Keeler's resignation as principal, Markoe said. Keeler wants to teach at the Jefferson County Alternative School in Charles Town, Markoe said.

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