Witch school could bring toil and trouble

July 16, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

CONCORD, Calif. -- A coven of witches in Concord says it wants to open a private school with spell-casting and potion-making on the curriculum if a state school voucher initiative is approved by voters in November.

Debbie Babcock, who says she is a priestess in the Oak Haven witch coven and a member of the Contra Costa Pagan Association, says the group could open a school with 25 students who would pay their tuition with $2,600 vouchers handed out by the state.

"Basically, we would run a regular curriculum -- reading, English, math, science. But along with that, we would be able to teach witchcraft," Ms. Babcock said in an interview this week. "It gives us the chance for our children to not be exposed to things that we feel are detrimental, like the Christian values or the Hollywood version of the bad witch."

Opponents of the voucher initiative say the proposal for a private witch school confirms their worst-case scenario of publicly financed schools run by unconventional groups. They have warned that anyone, even Waco cult leader David Koresh, could set up a private school as long as he had the minimum 25 students.

'It's exactly what could happen under the voucher system," said California Teachers Association President Del Weber. "It's not even limited to witches. You're authorizing the use of public tax money to be used in private schools with no controls, no accountability."

Sean Walsh, a spokesman for the Choice in Education League, a group supporting the initiative, said that the witches probably would not be able to open a school because they would fail background checks or provisions that outlaw schools permitting "unlawful" behavior.

"We absolutely reject the fright tactics used by the opposition," Mr. Walsh said. "We shouldn't be sidetracked by fringe groups. There are 5.3 million children in the public school system and many of them are being failed miserably."

Ms. Babcock says the witch school would be valuable for the children of pagans who now believe that they are being slighted in school. Last year, for instance, some Contra Costa County witches unsuccessfully petitioned the Mount Diablo School District to ban the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel because it depicted witches as children-eating monsters.

Ms. Babcock said that other religious groups already run private schools that would qualify for vouchers if the initiative passes. "The Christians are doing it," she said. "If you can't beat them, join them."

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