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School to stop leading prayer

Jan. 25, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- School officials say the recent practice of saying a prayer over the public address system at Central City Elementary School will stop, after a parent complained that it was inappropriate.

Jacqueline Webb, whose two children attend the school, voiced her complaint to Principal Patrick O'Neal the Monday following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the same morning she first heard the group prayer.

"It was Dec. 17, the Monday after the Sandy Hook shooting, and the kids were late that morning so I took them into the office to get slips and get to class and while I was standing there, the principal went through the pledge and announcements and then introduced a staff member who prayed in Jesus' name," Webb said.

Webb said she believes matters of a religious nature should be kept inside the family.

"It made me uncomfortable, so I went home and thought about it and I called and talked to the principal and secretary, who both apologized to me and told me it was a one-time occasion in response to Sandy Hook because everybody needed reassurance and comfort."

Webb said she was willing to let the situation drop until Thursday morning. She said she, upon dropping her children off, heard O'Neal lead students in another prayer via the PA system, in which he called for "protection and help to get us through our day," ending with "In Jesus' name, Amen."

"I was furious. I was sitting there thinking that I know of at least one other family there, a Catholic family, who doesn't pray the same way. There have got to be Jewish families in that school who don't pray that way. And, I was furious that I'd been lied to the first time about it being a one-time-only thing for Sandy Hook," Webb said. "Here we are, one month later and I'm wondering if they've been doing it every morning. This is why we have separation of church and state -- because you cannot be fair to everybody."

Jedd Flowers, director of communications for Cabell County schools, said he learned of the situation Thursday morning after Webb called the school's board office.

"The principal has been informed it is not appropriate to lead prayer at school and I have every confidence it will not happen again," Flowers said. "I think it came from the heart, but that still doesn't make it allowable."

O'Neal apologized Thursday afternoon and said it was not his intention to offend anybody.

"With the way society is now, with everything going on, I felt the need for something extra for us to provide protection for our school. It was really just a generic prayer of protection," O'Neal said. "But, we'll cease from saying the prayer. It won't happen again."

Webb said she wanted attention on the issue she described as "crossing the line."

"I understand studying religious topics in school. Doing it in an academic context is not a problem. Doing it as a practice in the morning is crossing the line," she said. "I'm not interested in going to war with anybody or getting anybody in major trouble or fired. I just want it stopped."

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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