Anti-abortion event scheduled at school building draws criticism

An anti-abortion group's plan to hold a "prayer assembly" at a Wichita middle school tonight has drawn a protest from the state chapter of the National Organization for Women.

A spokeswoman for Wichita public schools defended plans by Kansans for Life to rent Coleman Middle School, saying that the agreement complies with the district's policy on the use of school buildings.

Kari Ann Rinker, state coordinator for NOW, questioned the agreement.

"It is almost unbelievable that this kind of event is to take place in a taxpayer-funded facility, especially one where children receive their education," she said.

Rinker said it was especially unsettling that Coleman, at 1544 N. Governeour, is less than a half-mile from the spot where abortion doctor George Tiller was fatally shot by Scott Roeder in May 2009.

The shooting occurred inside Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th St.

Since Tiller's death, no doctors have offered abortions in Wichita. But two doctors — Mila Means and Greg Linhardt — have said they plan to begin offering abortion services here.

David Gittrich, state development director for Kansans for Life, said today's meeting was being held so people can pray that the doctors aren't successful in opening a clinic in Wichita.

"One thing we can do is pray, so that's what we're going to do," he said.

Gittrich said his group decided to meet in a school instead of a church because they didn't want to appear to be denominational.

He said he called the school district to ask about the possibility of renting a middle school on the east side of town. Gittrich said he specifically asked about Brooks Middle School because he is familiar with the building.

He was told that Brooks was unavailable tonight. He said someone at the district suggested Coleman.

He said he was vaguely familiar with Coleman's location and didn't associate it with Tiller's death.

"To be honest, I had not even thought about that," he said. "I just didn't have that in mind."

School district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said Kansans for Life is paying the district $269.38 to rent Coleman tonight.

She said the district regularly rents buildings during non-school hours. Some rental agreements are for regular weekly or monthly meetings of churches or scouting groups, she said. Others agreements, like the one involving Kansans for Life, are for one-time events.

Already this year, Arensman said, the district has approved 132 agreements for groups to use school buildings. Last year the district collected $172,972 in building rentals.

The school board's policy on renting district buildings says, "community groups and organizations should utilize the properties to the fullest extent possible at such times as these properties are not in use for regular school purposes."

The policy goes on to say that the district will not rent to groups that meet "for the purpose of advancing any doctrine or theory subversive to the Constitution or laws of the State of Kansas or the United States, or for the purpose of advocating social or political change by violence."

Arensman said the fact that the district rents a building to a particular group should not be taken as an indication that the district endorses the group's ideas.

She said the Kansans for Life application met the policy guidelines.

"They followed the procedures, and they filled out the paperwork," she said.