Secretary of State 'researching' voter registration activities at East Baton Rouge field trip
BATON ROUGE - In pictures and videos, it appears to be a church service, but it was actually a school-sanctioned field trip.
Lawyers say the glaring separation-of-church-and-state violation is just the tip of the iceberg.
"They are concerned about the use of state and federal funds for activities that are prohibited by state and federal law," parent Mary-Patrica Wray said.
Seniors from across the East Baton Rouge parish school system attended the "Day of Hope" on Sept. 20 that was billed as a college fair with 'fun and games.'
Some students and their parents say they were met instead with civil rights violations and emotional distress.
"They're also concerned about actions that may have resulted in emotional distress, that may have occurred without informed consent of parents in violation of the law."
Upon arrival, students say they were separated by their birth gender, despite how they may identify, and lectured about abstinence, suicide, and rape.
Wray, who has organized DayofNope.com in response to the mounting negative feedback, says students who did not want to provide their gender or religious beliefs had water poured on them by other students. Many left the event.
And now, there are allegations of possible bribery, as students say they weren't allowed to eat until registering to vote.
"I think one of the most open and shut issues here is that you cannot make lunch contingent upon any particular activity, and we have multiple students who have told us that they were told they could not eat lunch and get the pizza that was provided unless they submitted things like their social security number."
We confirmed with the East Baton Rouge registrar of voters that someone picked up blank voter registration forms from them the day before the event, but it isn't clear if they have been turned in. The Secretary of State says they are looking in to it.
Monday, Dr. Cade Brumley, the State Superintendent of Education, seemed to say it wasn't really his problem.
"Yeah that's a local issue. I can tell you that we are aware of the issue and I really can't say more. I can't give additional comments at this time," Brumley said.
The EBR school system, at first denied its involvement--even though superintendent Sito Narcisse was featured as a guest speaker-- then doubled back, calling the event "amazing." We're told the district spent almost $10,000 on the trip, but as of Monday, officials said they weren't sure.
After WBRZ's story ran, school officials responded with this comment:
All students were provided free lunch (pizza) at the event. In no way was the food provided contingent upon any compliance of activity. To my understanding, a community vendor was present who had information on registering to vote. Their vendor booth was separate from the lunch station provided for all students.
School officials also sent a copy of an agreement between the East Baton Rouge Parish School System and 29:11, in which the school agreed to pay $9,800 for the event. Despite the contract, the school district said they have only paid for bus transportation for the students.
Lawyers will be meeting with potential plaintiffs this week.
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