Christian school to shut down

Posted: Wednesday, March 08, 2006

After 26 years of religious and academic instruction, Juneau Christian School will close its doors at the end of this school year, church officials say.

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"With the expansion of other ministries at Juneau Christian Center, we remain committed to children's ministries through Juneau Christian Preschool, Ground Zero Youth Church, and Juneau Christian Children's Church," JCC Pastor Mike Rose said in a written statement.

Some parents of the kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school's students said they were shocked but understanding. One said his daughter cried.

When contacted by telephone, Rose said there are 93 students attending the school this year, instructed by nine teachers. He said he did not wish to comment further.

Principal Richard Burns acknowledged the closure but deferred all questions to Rose.

Parents were first told about the decision to close the school via a letter from the administration. It arrived over the weekend and was dated Friday.

Parent and basketball coach Gary Leder said the letter explained that the church was shifting its emphasis.

"They've decided to shift ministry focus and that is certainly something they're obligated to do if that is what they feel called to do," he said.

Still, Leder said the news came as a surprise.

"My reaction? Oh boy, it's a shock," he said. "We've had kids there for 10 years."

Leder said his eighth-grade daughter took the information pretty hard because she has been attending the school for her entire education.

"She was saddened mostly because these kids are more like a family than classmates and the reality is they will probably be going to different schools next year."

Kevin Buckland, who has a fifth-grade daughter attending the school, also said the information came as a shock. He said his daughter, who has been attending the school since kindergarten, took the information with difficulty.

"She started crying," Buckland said. "She was pretty upset with the whole thing."

Buckland said he is thankful the school announced its decision now to give parents time to figure out options for the next school year.

"Right now, for me at least, I don't see any other options other than public schools," he said.

Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan said the public schools welcome any of the Juneau Christian School students. Cowan said it is still too early to tell how the probable influx of students will affect the school district.

"It's impossible to guess right now because we don't know if they will be in 10 schools or if they will be clustered in a few schools," she said.

Cowan said the district will not know if it needs to hire more teachers until students begin to register. She said parents of students attending Juneau Christian School this year who plan to enroll in public school should register early in the spring rather than waiting until the fall.

"We encourage the parents and the families of the students to visit the schools and register so we can prepare for them," Cowan said.

Buckland said the school's loss will leave a void in educational options in Juneau.

"I think (my daughter) was getting a good education there," he said. "I think it is a definite loss to the community."

Buckland said his daughter attends the school this year because of its good students-to-teachers ratio and because it is allowed to teach religious-based material.

"What it meant for me was a good conservative curriculum with being able to teach on biblical morality that they're not really able to teach or talk about in the public schools," he said.

Leder said that when one door shuts another door always opens.

"We're very optimistic that this is not the end of Christian education, but could be the beginning of something great," he said.

A meeting to brainstorm options about the future of Christian education in Juneau will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Auke Bay Bible Church.

End of an era: The Juneau Christian School, housed in this building complex, gave notice to parents informing them the school will be closing after this school year.Brian Wallace / Associated Press

By TONY CARROLL

JUNEAU EMPIRE

Rachelle Waterman's father expected to get her out of jail this morning after a Juneau judge Tuesday dismissed the indictment charging the 17-year-old Craig girl with murder and conspiracy in the 2004 slaying of her mother, Lauri Waterman.

"At least I get my daughter back," Carl "Doc" Waterman said Tuesday outside of Juneau Superior Court.

Hours earlier Judge Patricia Collins struck down a key piece of prosecution evidence presented at Rachelle Waterman's recent trial, reversing a decision Collins made in September.

The judge ruled inadmissible a two-hour taped interrogation of Rachelle Waterman in the event the prosecution decides to refile charges.

The trial ended Feb. 14 with the jury unable to reach a verdict and voting 10-2 for acquittal.

Collins set a Tuesday afternoon hearing to give Ketchikan District Attorney Stephen West a chance to refile charges. Instead, he asked for a later chance to convince her to reconsider the ruling.

Although late Monday afternoon Collins stayed her ruling until a March 20 hearing, she cut the defendant's bail from $150,000 to $50,000 and told Doc Waterman that his daughter could be released with a $5,000 posting - as long as he understood the rest could be seized from his assets if his daughter violates her conditions of release.

Outside the courtroom, several of the trial jurors greeted and hugged Doc Waterman. He said he planned to post the bail first thing this morning. Family friends in Juneau have offered to let his daughter stay with them until the case is resolved, he added.

Rachelle Waterman was 16 and representing Craig High School at the state volleyball tournament on Nov. 14, 2004, when her mother was kidnapped, killed and set on fire inside the family's minivan in a remote area of Prince of Wales Island. Her father was in Juneau at the time.

Two 24-year-old men from the island, Brian Radel and Jason Arrant, both of whom had a sexual relationship with Rachelle Waterman earlier in 2004, later agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder. Both testified for the prosecution at the trial.

But the recorded interrogation included what the district attorney said was the defendant's admission she was at the center of the conspiracy to kill her mother. Near the end of the recording, presented at the end of the state's case, Rachelle Waterman told investigators that while she was in Anchorage the weekend of her mother's death, she knew her mother could be killed and did nothing to stop it.

"Without that tape, the state has nothing," said juror Kelley DeMars, who came to Tuesday morning's hearing. "That was the only thing they had."

She said jurors sat through the entire trial waiting for evidence against the defendant.

"Then, boom," she said.

But even after watching the tape, jurors began picking apart what she said.

One of the other jurors who came to the hearing agreed.

"I wish she were free now," juror Andrea Jones said.

Tuesday morning prosecutor West, who participated by telephone from Craig, said he still was looking into whether the state should hold a second trial but asked Collins to set a new trial date.

Defense attorney Steven Wells, participating by telephone from Palmer, had filed arguments seeking to have the judge acquit his client, arguing the prosecution didn't prove her guilt at trial.

Collins denied his motion, finding that some members of the jury found enough evidence to believe Rachelle Waterman was guilty.

By the end of the day West said he may ask Collins to reconsider the morning ruling or ask to have it reviewed by the Alaska Court of Appeals.

Collins said she would have an open mind when reading a motion to reconsider, but she added that he should be prepared to move forward if she denies it.

"I have reconsidered (the admissibility of the statements)," Collins said. "That was the order I entered today."

Collins said trial testimony revealed facts she did not know about the interrogation. The state did not show Waterman's statements were made voluntarily. The statements were used as a foundation for the 2004 grand jury indictment and aspects of them were misrepresented to the grand jury, the judge added.

Wells said after the trial that had his client been convicted, the statements being admitted would have been grounds for appeal.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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