Youth pastor volunteers cause school controversy

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND -- As his voice quivered and his hands shook, youth pastor Danny Smith made his message clear: Kids mean a lot to him.

"I come here because I know that it's important for every student to know that they each have value and a purpose," he said.

Smith is one of three youth pastors who have volunteered at Bainbridge Island's Woodward Middle School during lunch hours. Thursday night families packed the school district's auxiliary room and more than 20 people spoke about the religious controversy.

"As a parent, I do want to know who my child has contact with throughout his day," said Dawn Jano.

Some parents heard allegations from students that the pastors spoke about church and Christianity during lunch periods.

The district recently launched an investigation into the matter, according to board president Mike Spence.

"We can't ignore this. There are just too many serious issues to consider here," he said.

The key issue for Spence is the separation of church and state. He says district rules cannot bar someone because of religious beliefs, but volunteers are not allowed to speak about religion on campus.

"That's pretty dangerous. It's a pretty slippery slope I guess I would say," Spence said.

Parents like Darryl Martin say having a supportive male figure at school can make a difference.

"If some of those volunteers were not there, taking the opportunity to meet my son, and help introduce him to other students, my son would spend most of the year eating lunch by himself," he said.

Pastor Smith was emotional during his three minutes to speak. He read from prepared comments and at times nearly broke into tears. He said he isn't trying to push an agenda.

"My purpose is still to show each student that they are valued and they have worth," he said.

The district does not have a deadline for the completion of the investigation or the cost for an outside investigator but hope to have answers in the next week.