District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton is apologizing for a minister’s prayer at an employee staff event Monday.
The back-to-school convocation, attended by more than 1,000 teachers and other district employees, was intended to be part pep rally, and part thank-you, to help kick off the academic year.
However, in an email to all employees, Horton acknowledged that some of those who heard the prayer thought it was inappropriate and offensive to have a religious overtone at a secular, public school program.
In the email, Horton said the convocation’s goal was to “show gratitude and appreciation” to district employees for all of their hard work in challenging times.
The superintendent stated that “we had no intention of offering official prayer calling for the presence of a deity.”
The original plan, Horton added, was to have the Rev. Michael Nabors, president of the local NAACP chapter (and pastor of the Second Baptist Church), give a welcoming statement.
Horton said that “Pastor Nabors is well known in our community and he typically gives greetings and invocations that are secular and non-denominational.”
However, Nabors was not able to attend, and so sent his daughter, Minister Spencer Nabors, to take his place.
Some of those angered by a prayer being offered were also upset that the speaker referenced J.K. Rowling, the well-known author of the “Harry Potter” books, because, as Horton noted, Rowling “is not known to support LGBTQ+ individuals.”
Horton acknowledged that this portion of the program “did not feel in line with the personal liberty and inclusion that D65 is committed to,” and he apologized for “those remarks that were offensive.”
In the future, he said, every attempt will be made to review presentation materials in advance.
Horton thanked the staff “for sharing your concerns in a manner that honors respect, dignity, [and] professionalism” in a way that is courteous and “humanizing.”
The superintendent also mentioned the District 65 statement of academic objectives, called the “MIRACLES” program.
Each letter in “MIRACLES” stands for a specific educational goal, although, of course, miracles play a major role in many religions.
Horton said the District 65 staff is engaged in helping students achieve the “MIRACLES” targets, and “there is no religious connotation intended” with the term, nor with any of the words each letter represents.
He also added that a common definition of “miracles” is “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment,” which is how District 65 uses the word.
Horton concluded by thanking those “who reached out to hold us accountable for the unintended impact of this portion of our day, [because] holding each other accountable for missteps is how we excel together.”