Students in an informal Bible study group in Johnson County recently placed 1,600 Post-it notes with Bible verses on lockers at the two high schools they attend. They saw very different reactions.
At Johnson Central High School, principal Russell Halsey, who describes himself as a Christian active in church, said he had the notes removed out of respect to all students. He said he would have done the same in any situation in which a special interest or religious group posted fliers or notes.
Students said the administration at the smaller Paintsville High School in Paintsville Independent district left the notes alone.
Charles McClure, the principal of Paintsville High School, declined to comment Friday.
"We just wanted to spread the love of Jesus. We wanted everybody to realize that they are loved," said Paintsville High student Laura Keeton, who posted some of the notes on Oct. 28.
Laura said at first, she was upset that the notes were taken off the lockers at Johnson Central, "but then I realized that if they hadn't been taken down, we wouldn't have gotten so much publicity and God wouldn't have gotten his name out there."
WYMT-TV in Hazard reported on the incident Oct.30.
The project was the work of "a group of teens that meet at McDonald's and have Bible lessons," and decided to do an outreach project, Laura said.
"We spent a little bit under two months" writing inspirational bible verses on the 1,600 notes, she said.
Halsey said the students placed the notes on lockers after school without his approval at a time when the building was opened. When a staff member saw the notes that same evening and called him, he decided to remove them before school opened the next morning.
"I feel like Johnson Central High has taken some heat unduly for this when actually we are the ones who have followed the law.
"I'm in church as much as I can possibly be, but in a public school we are required by law to be responsive to all groups of any faith, of any special interest," Halsey said.
He said the notes were posted in common areas, as well as individual lockers.
"We have students from a wide range of backgrounds, students of the Islam faith, students of the Jewish faith," he said.
He said the students who placed the notes did not express disappointment that he took them down.
"It's a non-issue," he said.
Halsey said the students involved would not face disciplinary action for placing the notes without approval.
Some students removed the notes at Paintsville High School, said Lauren.
"There were some kids that took them down and that's fine. We understand. It's their choice."
Josh Belcher, a Johnson Central student in the group, said some students came up to him and thanked him, saying they respected him for posting the notes.
He said there were a handful of Johnson Central students in the Bible study who posted the notes and about as many from Paintsville High.
Johnson Central teacher Ben Stephens said the students from both schools acted on their own, although he knows them in his role as youth minister at First Christian Church in Paintsville where many of them are members. He said he was also a sponsor for the school-sanctioned Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Stephens said the students from the study group told him what they were going to do, but, "it was completely student led," he said.
Stephens said in a school in which students have many different belief systems, the Johnson Central principal indicated that he "was trying to be fair to everyone."
Amber Duke, communications director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Kentucky, said she didn't know about specific school policies, but she thought school administrators were within their rights to take the notes down, and the students were within their rights to post the bible verses.
However, school administrators could face legal challenges if they allowed one group to post messages or hold prayer sessions but not others, Duke said.