Pastors accused of talking church at public school

by: David Ham Updated:

Woodward Middle School on Bainbridge Island.

The Bainbridge Island School District has launched an investigation into whether or not three local youth pastors who volunteered as cafeteria supervisors at Woodward Middle School proselytized or tried to recruit students at school.

The men have been asked not to volunteer at the school while the district investigates.

"I think it's a very dicey situation, I think they have to be really careful what they say," said Leslie Krantz, whose eighth-grade son attends Woodward.

Bainbridge Island Public Schools said parents brought the complaints to a district administrator last week.

Part of the complaint was that students said the presence of pastors at school was "creepy."

"That for me is when I take an issue when there are personal accusations about my character (or) creepiness (or) weirdness. My purpose is to just be with these kids and make them feel valued and to help our community," Smith said.

Smith, one of the pastors.

Smith is accused of talking to students about church at school.

"The only time church may have come in is when they say 'What do you do?' my response is, 'I'm a youth pastor.' Even sometimes say I'm a leader because most of the kids don't know what a youth pastor is," said Smith, who is a youth pastor at Island Church.

A spokesperson for the district said an outside contractor was hired to launch a "fact finding" mission into the allegations.

Woodward's principal wrote an email to parents on Tuesday night saying in part, "I have not had a single report of any of our volunteers proselytizing or recruiting students on campus. However, we are taking the concerns brought forward seriously. To ensure that volunteers in our school have been complying with all district policies, we will be having a non-district employee talk with students, staff and parents for the purpose of fact-finding and determining if anyone has violated our policy," said Mike Florian.

None of the three volunteers are parents of students at the school.

Tammy Fujihara's eighth-grade son attends Woodward and she believes the men should not be discriminated against because of what they do for a living.

"They shouldn't be thought of as a weirdo just because they wanna volunteer at the school," said Fujihara.

She added, "It is a very litigious sort of community, but I also think it's a very open-minded community, so it's a contradiction."

"Just because of my occupation, it gets lumped into that whole ugliness that doesn't need to be," said Smith.

The district said the pastors may be allowed on campus, depending on the outcome of its investigation.

"I don't wanna defend myself, I want to defend my motives. It's not about me, it's about why I'm there. It's not for evangelizing and it's not for proselytizing or recruiting but it's just there to be there," said Smith.

Parents on Bainbridge Island said they plan to speak out on the issue during a public comment period at the next school board meeting Thursday night at 5:30 p.m.

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