Letter threatening lawsuit over Operation Christmas Child angers charter school parents

Parents, students collect shoebox gifts off campus

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. - When SkyView Academy Charter School received a letter threatening a lawsuit because of its involvement in Operation Christmas Child, parents became angry. Now, they're taking matters into their own hands.

On Wednesday, they organized an off-campus rally and toy collection drive on the public sidewalk adjacent to the school.

SkyView students have been collecting shoebox Christmas gifts for children in third world countries for two years.

This year, the school received a letter from the American Humanist Association asking it to end its association with the program, which is sponsored by Christian televangelist Franklin Graham.

The letter, threatening a lawsuit related to separation of Church and State, did not sit well with many parents.

"We feel that we've been bullied," said Kendal Unruh. "Instead of using a fist, they use a letter to force us to comply with what their view of what we should be doing is all about."

Unruh said the humanists are targeting small charter schools in an effort to raise their own profile and to raise funds.

"That's a misinterpretation of what's going on," said Kimberly Saviano of Humanists of Colorado. "The school was promoting it and they were using school resources to get it together. By promoting it during school time, it gives the air of authority to it, as if the administration endorses the religion."

Academy founder and Board President Lorrie Grove told 7NEWS that it wasn't a school project and it wasn't required.  She said it was student led.

But Grove also said that after consulting with attorneys, board members decided "that in the best interest of the school, at this time, we would go ahead and suspend the program this year."

That's when the parents stepped forward and started collecting gifts and donations on the public sidewalk.

"My appeal is, let's make this the biggest shoebox drive ever and push back against the bullies," Unruh said.

Dr. Pamela Daiss-Sitzmann dropped off a check for $55.

"To accept Christ, is in your heart," Daiss-Sitzmann said. "Just putting something in a shoebox for kids is not necessarily going to make them Christian."

Saviano said The American Humanist Association didn't just target the charter school out of the blue.

"We were petitioned by parents in the school who were upset on the other side of this."

When asked if there was a problem with kids collecting gifts and giving them to other kids, Saviano replied, "Absolutely not. I think it's terrific."

Saviano said she fully supports what the parents and children are doing.  She said it makes more sense to have their collection drive on the public sidewalk after school hours than it does to have it on school grounds.

"This is actually a great civics lesson for these kids," Unruh said. "They're going to learn a very valuable life lesson through all this."

Unruh added that the off-campus collection drive netted more than 500 shoe boxes Wednesday.