LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The Calcasieu Parish School Board is postponing a final vote on a controversial piece of legislation that's aimed at regulating the use of school facilities.
The proposed policy would actually replace the current policy, known as Policy KG, which allows most outside organizations (civic, religious, governmental, etc.) access to school facilities (when those facilities are not in use by the schools themselves) providing they pay rental fees and sign a contract.
Under the new policy, most outside organizations would only be allowed access to school facilities six times per year.
Because of this, new and small church groups, who don't have facilities of their own, believe the proposed policy unfairly targets them, since they need access to school facilities much more than six times per year.
Eleven people addressed the school board Tuesday evening, each speaking out against the proposed legislation, including Mark Stagg, pastor of Open Gate Western Heritage Church, which filed a lawsuit in federal court against the district, claiming it was kicked out of a local school it was renting while its own facilities were being constructed.
"Believe it or not banks and lending institutions don't stand in line and say 'You're a church. We'd like to give you money,'" said Stagg. "As a matter of fact, it takes 3-5 years on average for a congregation to start and come to a place where they can secure a financial construction loan."
Stagg said his church was a few weeks away from finally moving into its own building.
The board said the proposed revision was never intended to unfairly attack or target religion, rather to make sure school facilities weren't being misused by any group.
"When we have a group of mature Christian people come before this board and pour their heart and soul, who am I to say 'You don't get a chance?'" asked CPSB member James Karr, who said he was "not comfortable" with the proposal's current language.
Some board members called for the proposed policy's language to be cleared up so it wouldn't appear as if the district was singling out religious groups.
CPSB member Annette Ballard said she wanted input from school principals before moving forward.
CPSB member Bryan LaRocque said any time restrictions included in the proposal would tantamount to "discriminating" against religious groups.
"We're going to have a policy that someone's not going to like. That's the reality of it," said CPSB member Joe Andrepont.
Other members, frustrated with the controversy that's developed over the matter in recent weeks, said the board just needed to decide one way or the other about who can use school facilities and how often.
"My opinion is our buildings are for the education of our kids and if we really wanted to be strict with it, our buildings should be used for events that our kids are attending at the school," said CPSB member Mack Dellafosse.
"We just need to go on and make a decision, if we're going to agree to the 6 times or we're not going to agree to the 6 times," added CPSB member Clara Duhon. "That's the main thing these religious groups are talking about."
The board decided by a vote of 9 to 4 to send the matter back to staff, who will recommend changes to the proposed policy. Staff will then forward those recommendations on to a school board committee, who will then send the proposal to the full board for a final vote.
It is not clear when the board will take that vote.
To find contact information for Calcasieu Parish school board members, visit the district's website at http://www.cpsb.org/