TYLER, Texas — Tyler Independent School District has announced they will begin offering social studies electives based on the Bible for the upcoming school year.

Courses that will be taught include:

  • 03380052 Special Topics in Social Studies: Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) Y HEBSCSS - 0.5 credits
  • 03380062 Special Topics in Social Studies: New Testament NEWTS - 0.5 credits

Tyler ISD released the following statement concerning the classes:

Tyler ISD will offer special topics in social studies elective courses in “Old Testament” (Fall 2019) and “New Testament” (Spring 2020) for the 2019-20 academic school year. The course will study content and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, tradition, and public policy. Course teachers must be certified and complete staff development training per District requirements. Standards for the courses are outlined by the Texas Education Code. These courses must  follow federal law maintaining religious neutrality and will consider the Bible in a secular and academic context.  

Students are not required to enroll in these electives and must have parental approval before enrolling. 

There has been controversy surrounding the place of religion and religious teachings in Texas public schools. 

"I think it's great," Tyler resident Joe Staicer said. "The Bible is a foundation of Western civilization. It's a good way to live and I think more schools need it."

When news of the move by Tyler ISD hit social media, it sparked continuous debate about the  separation of church and state. 

"If it's a choice for kids to be able to do it, then I think it'll be a good idea," Tyler resident Diedrick Floyd said. "History is history. Just to have knowledge on anything, it's good. Especially if it's history on the scripture, it's positive."

The district confirms the two classes will be offered to students at Robert E. Lee and John Tyler High Schools and will be taught by certified teachers, per the Texas Education Code. 

"So, essentially these classes are not religious classes," District 9 State Board of Education representative, Keven Ellis, said. "The purpose of these courses are to teach students Biblical characters, poetry, narratives and prerequisites to understanding literature, art music, public policy and familiarize students with a history in law and government traced back to the Bible."

Texas Education Code section 28.011 states that districts may offer an elective course or courses on the impact of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to students in grades 9-12. Section 28.002 also states each district that offers K-12 instruction shall offer an enrichment curriculum that includes "religious literature, including the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, and its impact on history and literature." 

This section was added to the Texas Education Code in 2007, following the passage of House Bill 1287. The addition took effect in the 2009-2010 school year. 

"The Bible is taught as literature or about historical monuments and culture that are referenced in the Bible," Ellis said. "Another key point is that there are no textbooks that have been approved by the state board of education and the districts cannot require students to use a particular translation of the Bible."

Selecting the course material is the responsibility of the individual districts. Due to guidelines set in the Texas Education Code, the task of choosing said material can be a challenging one, but not impossible. When religious literature is taught in public schools, classroom instruction must still comply with the U.S. Constitution, state law and local policy. 

"It's not just an option for either a school district to offer it or not offer it," Ellis said. "It's an option for the student to either take it or not take it."

Any Tyler ISD students interested in taking the Bible-based social studies courses should visit with their campus counselors.