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Canyons won't sell land for seminary, but will still allow release time

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 17 2011 6:18 p.m. MDT

The construction site where the new high school in Draper will be built.

Jeremy Castellano, Jeremy Castellano, Deseret News

DRAPER — The Canyons school board's decision to not sell a piece of its new Draper high school campus for the use of a religious seminary will in no way impact the rights of students to take release time classes, according to district officials.

In accordance with Utah law, the district will offer release time with parent permission to students at the school, said Canyons spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook. The board's decision Tuesday also has no bearing on a religious organization's ability to purchase land near the school, she said.

"This discussion the board had was all about a piece of property. It was not about release time or religious instruction," Toomer-Cook said. "We don't wish to sell. … That doesn't preclude anyone from building or seeking land nearby."

The district initially reserved an acre-size plot on the same campus as the school for use by a religious organization. Two Salt Lake-based faiths — Summum and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — expressed interest in the property for the purpose of building a seminary. The LDS Church has seminary buildings adjacent to or near just about every high school in the state, including each of the four high schools in the Canyons district.

Brian Barnard, who represents Summum, said the decision isn't just about land. He previously contended the district and the LDS Church were in exclusive cahoots over the fate of the parcel of land, and disagrees with the district's decision to sell to neither.

"One would surely hope that simply because a second group expressed interest in the land, the school board did not do this abrupt about-face," Barnard said in a prepared statement.

He refutes the district's claim that Tuesday night was the first time the board ever discussed selling the land, saying the board apparently changed its plans overnight.

"The one acre of land would accommodate a couple buildings and thus a couple different religious organizations. ... It is sad that rather than being fair and allowing diversity, the school board denies the LDS Church, Summum and all other interested religious groups an opportunity to secure that land and avail themselves of this opportunity."

The LDS Church said it has plans to offer religious instruction for students at the new high school, but the seminary's location has not been announced.

"While the church anticipates providing seminary opportunities for students attending the new high school, we have yet to announce plans for a new building,” said Scott Trotter, spokesman for the LDS Church.

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

Twitter: mollyfarmer

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