PHOENIX (AP) - Nearly 8,000 followers of a polygamist church in an isolated community near the Utah state line have been ordered to teach their children at home, putting the school year in doubt.
Deloy Bateman, a high school science teacher in Colorado City, said many teachers have resigned following the pronouncement by Warren Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ``Even if the school stays open, the religious leadership will likely turn up the psychological pressure on all others to leave town,'' said Bateman, who left the church three years ago and has taught at the high school for 17 years.
School is scheduled to begin Aug. 22. About 1,000 students attend public school in Colorado City and another 300 attend public school in neighboring Hildale, Utah.
Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow said public schooling would continue and he didn't anticipate problems in hiring competent teachers. Colorado City was settled by polygamists who broke away from the Mormon Church after it banned the practice of multiple marriages. Polygamy is against the law in both Arizona and Utah.
Ben Bistline, a longtime Colorado City resident and former member of the church, said he was puzzled why Jeffs would abandon a school system already under his followers' control. ``They've been talking around here for two years about this date or that date being the time when the true believers would be swept up into heaven,'' Bistline said. ``I guess they figure now that they have to get rid of all the apostates before they can cleanse themselves to go to heaven.''
Mohave County Superintendent Mike File said the school district would lose about $3 million in funding if 500 students left. School officials in Colorado City have already said at least that many students would not be enrolling this fall.
``We've got to provide public schooling if there is one child or 1,000,'' File said. ``This is a tough thing to accept because it's one thing if it's the people's choice but quite another if they are being told to do it (for religious acceptance).''