faith in action

Three ways to deepen your back-to-school night 

Back-to-school nights are a beloved and much-needed mainstay in many United Methodist churches.  The United Methodist Church calls on its churches and members to do more than hand out free school supplies, however. 

Our Social Principles say, "Every person has the right to education.“ (Social Principles, 164.E) Many United Methodist churches support this statement with back-to-school night drives providing backpacks, pencils and other items. Students can’t learn — and teachers can’t teach — without these needed school supplies. 

More than the free provision of resources, these drives are a cornerstone of many church-community relationships, helping to maintain and build church connections to the surrounding community. These and other back-to-school activities are vitally necessary as an ever-increasing number of school systems go underfunded.

We can do more, however, to make sure, "every person has the right to education.” The back-to-school time of year offers a great opportunity to highlight ways we can make that goal a reality throughout the year.

Here are three ways to bring your back-to-school night into conversation with contemporary realities.

1. Vouchers 

The United Methodist Church opposes government funds supporting vouchers for religious schooling.

“…We specifically oppose tuition tax credits, school vouchers, or any other mechanism that directly or indirectly allows government funds to support religious schools at the primary and secondary level. Persons of one particular faith should be free to use their own funds to strengthen the belief system of their particular religious group. They should not, however, expect all taxpayers, including those who adhere to other religious belief systems, to provide funds to teach religious views with which they do not agree.” (Book of Resolutions, 5012)

You can use the back-to-school time to educate your congregation and the wider community on the United Methodist stance on this issue. Discuss why The United Methodist Church takes this position as a matter of faith. Include Church and Society’s Education Reform Faith and Facts card among the provisions at your back-to-school night. Advocate in your local, state, and federal politics against government funding for vouchers for religious schools.

2. Racial inequity

The United Methodist Church calls for the end of racial disparities.

“…WHEREAS, widespread discrimination against people of color continues in the U.S. in housing, education, health care, and the policing and criminal justice system, and WHEREAS, we need a vision of a beloved community, founded on social and economic justice and motivated by self-giving love…[including] providing genuinely equal education opportunities for all…Be it further resolved, that every annual conference, district, and local church should be engaged, intentionally, in being an anti-racist church, not merely on paper, but in action. Church bodies at every level should seek to educate themselves on the extent of racism in business, education, government, housing, and health care and find ways to advocate for the elimination of specific instances locally and nationally.” (Book of Resolutions, 3378)

If there is already a local church-school partnership, get involved. If there isn’t one already, begin one. Develop — or strengthen — a particular focus on racism, white supremacy and white privilege. Host a forum looking at how race affects access to resources, funding, educational levels and policing, especially in your local community. 

Find out how your school system handles discipline. Schools once dealt with behavior by sending students to the principal’s office. Now, they are increasingly handing out out-of-school suspensions or turning students over to the police. The increased presence of police in schools is criminalizing students of color and facilitating the school-to-prison pipeline. Work with school administrators to find alternatives.

3. Immigration

The United Methodist Church supports the DREAM Act.

“…we, the General Conference of The UMC, urge the US Congress to adopt the DREAM Act and provide for these children, who have lived most their lives in this country, access to educational opportunities and full participation in the life of the only nation they have known, and identify with, the US.” (Book of Resolutions, 3164)

The DREAM Act, bipartisan legislation first introduced in Congress in 2001, was reintroduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) on July 20, 2017. In an era of heightened concern for undocumented immigrants, the almost 800,000 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are particularly vulnerable. Invite immigrant communities, neighborhoods, families, and groups to your back-to-school night. Reach out to immigrant justice groups to partner in providing school supplies. Include in the back-to-school supplies informational resources, such as Know-Your-Rights flyers, DACA information sheets, and “deportation defense” preparation folders like the one found here.

Have attendees at the back-to-school night write letters to their members of Congress asking them to support the DREAM Act. Provide envelopes, stamps, pens, and paper.