McKinney ISD superintendent faces criticism for leading prayer during convocation

For nearly three months, McKinney ISD has been dealing with a prayer problem.

A group of parents furious over the superintendent leading a prayer back in August continued their fight during Tuesday’s school meeting. There have also been complaints about religious displays in classrooms.

The topic was not on the agenda, but a select group of parents were so upset about it that they showed up and signed up to speak about it during public comment. The district says it is reevaluating prayer at school events and hosting school events at churches.

McKinney ISD Superintendent Rick McDaniel received applause for praying at convocation in August.

“I realize that some of you don't feel comfortable with that,” he said. “And I'm alright with that. I understand."

McDaniel stood behind a cross at Prestonwood Baptist Church and prayed for victims of terrorism. Nearly three months later, the district is still getting complaints about religion in school.

"No one is trying to prevent the zeal you have to spread your religion,” said resident Marta Pinkston.

It was the second consecutive school board meeting that has drawn public comment about separation of church and state.

"If you really believe that prayer works, you shouldn't have to do it in front of a crowd,” said resident Amy Bennett. “It's against the law. You expect the students to know the school rules and respect them."

"Honestly, I thought we had this figured out as a nation,” said resident Jo Oiler. “We have a moment of silence."

In a statement, the district says it intends to move future events, like convocation and graduation, from the church to its new stadium once construction is completed.

"McKinney ISD's existing facilities cannot accommodate large events and, therefore, the district must rent outside facilities," the district said. They added they are “committed to maintaining a culture that respects the diverse backgrounds and beliefs of all students and staff."

The purpose of McDaniel’s prayer at convocation was for victims of terrorism. It was a week after the attack in Barcelona.

A spokesperson for the district says there have also been a few complaints about teachers having religious symbols in classrooms, like a cross at their desk or as jewelry. The district says it addresses those concerns with teachers privately when warranted. But teachers do have a right to keep a cross on their desk or wear a cross around their neck.

The spokesperson says the complaints have come from a small group of parents, and it's been a distraction from their mission to educate.