Home December 2014 Barred from school, youth mentor denies trust breach

Barred from school, youth mentor denies trust breach

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SALEM — Tim Saffeels insists he was in no way trying to force a discussion on religion with some students at Straub Middle School here and that they were the ones who raised the subject. But because an eighth-grader took offense, the youth mentor from Salem Heights Church is barred from volunteering at the school for the rest of this school year.
As reported last month by the Statesman-Journal newspaper of Salem, student Shelby Conway wrote a letter to Principal Laura Perez complaining about comments she alleges Saffeels made during a lunchtime discussion at the school. She charged that Saffeels asked students about their religious beliefs and also insulted her after she revealed that she was atheist. Conway said she was personally offended with how he was speaking to her and other non-Christian students and that he described atheism with such terms as “wrong,” “stupid” and “evil.”
Saffeels denied making the comments about atheism, but Perez concluded there was a “breach of trust” on his part and decided that he will not be allowed back through the remainder of the school year.
Saffeels told Christian News Northwest that, at this point, Perez’s decision does not affect his volunteer work as a mentor in several other Salem middle and high schools. He said he would meet with administrators of the other schools to assure them that he has no desire to create any disruption through his mentoring efforts.
“The goal is that there be peace as we move forward in unity,” he said. “And our goal as a church is to represent Christ in all we do.”
Saffeels gave the Salem newspaper the name of another student who would back up his account of what happened during lunch. But that student’s parent declined to speak on the record to the newspaper.
Saffeels has been the church’s director of student ministries for three years. He and other volunteer mentors at the schools help supervise students during lunch and serve as role models.
Under Salem-Keizer School District policy, promotion or inhibition of religion in any form by school visitors is prohibited. Saffeels said he volunteers at schools to build relationships with students, not to promote the Christian faith. He doesn’t believe he violated school policy because he wasn’t the one who brought up the topic of religion.
While the district policy doesn’t ex-plicitly outline how visitors should respond to religious questions, Mary Paulson, the district’s chief of staff, told the Salem newspaper the district would expect mentors to direct any religious questions by students to their parents or own churches.
Perez told the newspaper she appreciates the time that volunteers commit to the schools and noted that this is the first time this problem has been faced.