Citing concerns about the “filth” that exists on the internet, a tiny Tennessee Christian school has asked the state legislature to allow students to be exempt from mandatory computer training if their parents are opposed to computer education for ethical reasons.
At issue is a state law requiring all students to take at least a year of computer training to help prepare them for the 21st century. Students must comply with the law to receive a high school diploma.
“The law says a student will have one year of computer education. We’re only asking for [an] exemption for conscience’s sake,” said Floyd Rochat, principal of the Oakmont School in Knoxville. “We want our children to think, not just push a button and get an answer,” Rochat said. “We don’t want them to access the internet, which is full of filth.”
Currently, only students who transfer to a Tennessee school from out of state during their senior year are exempt from the law.
Oakmont school officials presented their request to the state’s joint House-Senate Education Oversight Committee in December.
State Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, plan to introduce a bill Feb. 15 to amend the computer education law.
The amendment would allow students to be excused from computer instruction if their parents or guardians submitted a written statement saying they considered the requirement but are opposed to such instruction for reasons of conscience.
Parents would have to submit their written request to the principal, superintendent, and local board of education.
In place of the computer instruction, the student would have to complete four semesters in vocational or business education.
“We make exceptions to the law under religious grounds all the time,” Burchett said. “So it’s within the realm of possibility.”
For example, the state’s family life curriculum gives parents the ability to exempt their children from sexual education, he said.
Oakmont School is a private Christian school with 13 students enrolled in grades six to 12. The administrators are seriously concerned about the infiltration of pornography and other dangerslike finding bomb recipesthat computers make possible.
“We don’t have computers in our schools, or homes, or businesses,” Rochat said. “We want to maintain faith and good conscience, and computers take you into fields where you can’t do that.”
In addition, Rochat said the school’s leaders fear technology as a tool that could easily be used by the devil.
“We believe the whole electronic system could be used by the devil,” Rochat said. “All men and women are being united all over the world [by computers], so it’s easier for the devil to get his message out.”
Mary McDonald, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, told the Commercial Appeal of Memphis that the 7,500 students in that city’s 24 Catholic schools use computers with filters, and administrators rely on teachers to make sure students are viewing only appropriate web sites.
“Responsible use of the internet needs to be taught,” McDonald told the newspaper. “Technology is here to stay.”
She said schools should teach students with the latest technology so they’ll be competitive in the work force. However, she said it’s up to each private or faith-based school to make its own decisions on exemptions.
“If it’s a school that doesn’t receive any state funding and they want an exemption based on religion, I don’t see that it is a question at all,” she told the Appeal. “They have the right.”
Burchett said he supports the legislation because technology may hinder a student’s ability to learn fundamental skills.
“All sorts of kids are going to school and can’t spell or do addition or subtraction without the use of a computer or calculator, and that’s not good,” he said.
When asked whether a lack of computer training or experience would put students at a disadvantage, Burchett said with or without internet access students can always pick up the phone and call to get information.
Tennessee Department of Education
Catholic Diocese of Memphis