In the scrum of early morning dropoffs at Wellesley Middle School today, few parents had time or room to discuss superintendent Bella Wong's apology for allowing sixth graders to participate in a prayer service during a field trip to a local mosque last Spring.
Those that did, however, were united in their support for the school's program of
religious education, which they say promotes tolerance and understanding.
"I believe the program is valid," said parent Ute Smith. "My daughter went on the trip last year and she enjoyed being exposed to the different culture. I think it was valuable."
"I didn't have a problem with the school's decision," said parent Jenny Rademacher.
The field trip came under attack this week after a video showing some of the school's male students participating in a prayer service at the mosque went viral. The video was publicized by Americans for Peace and Tolerance, which is a critic of the mosque.
One parent, who asked not to be identified, called the controversy 'ridiculous.'
"The mosque visit was innocent," the parent said. "Five minutes of prayer won't make any kids change their religion."
"Until yesterday, I hadn't been aware that some kids were invited forward to pray," said parent Andrew Nelson, who also had a daughter attend the field trip. "It was kind of surprising, because I don't think it happened when the kids visited the synagogue or the church. But I think the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot. Bella (Wong) seems to be handling it well."
Elsewhere around town today, Wellesley residents who did not have children in the middle school also expressed opinions on the trip, and on Wong's apology.
"No one should have to apologize," said Dr. Andre St. Germain, a Wellesley dentist. "This has been blown out of proportion."
"If anything, the children who participated should be praised, for being so respectful and keeping an open mind," said resident Curtis Rennels.
Some felt that, though the intent of the field trip was praiseworthy, students participating in prayer services was a matter for parents to decide.
"The whole thing is unfortunate," said Maryann Smith. "I think, on the whole, the religious program is pretty well accepted, but there needs to be another conversation if kids are going to participate in active services."
Hind Rakin, a Muslim, is the mother of a Wellesley sixth grader. She said she plans to allow her daughter to attend interfaith field trips and had already allowed her to experience services at a Jewish temple.
"If we don't help kids learn to love each other despite their differences, how are we going to stop all the anger over religion?" Rakin asked. "There needs to be more respect and love in the world."