Donald D. Greenawalt is a teacher, a computer expert, a former faculty president of Prince George's Community College and a former congressional candidate. But most of all, he says, he is a Christian.
Greenawalt, one of four candidates for the Prince George's County Board of Education's 5th District seat, wants to help build a school system "in which it's recognized that this is a country whose motto is 'In God We Trust.' " He calls for voluntary prayer and stricter discipline, including corporal punishment, in elementary schools.
Greenawalt, 38, a graduate of Oxon Hill High School and the University of Maryland, is director of data processing at the Northern Virginia Community College and a former data processing instructor and the elected faculty president at Prince George's Community College. His three daughters are in public schools in the county. One attends Kettering Elementary, where he is president of the PTA. Another is a student at Kettering Junior High and the third attends a prekindergarten program at Largo Senior High.
He is a quiet, cheerful, born-again Christian who lists chess and hang-gliding as his avocations. He plays on the softball team of Mount Oak United Methodist Church in Mitchellville, where he is also a Sunday school teacher.
He says his religious beliefs play the major part in what he wants to do with the school system, but notes that he has much more to offer.
"I think I'm by far the best qualified of any of the candidates running, apart from the religious issue," he says. "But I'm a religious person and it would be dishonest of me to hide that. I do not, or would not, use the school system to coerce anyone--even to force them to pray is wrong."
State Sen. B.W. Mike Donovan (D-District Heights), whose district includes Kettering, has endorsed Greenawalt but says his religious convictions are not important in this race.
"Don Greenawalt is from the Kettering area, and in the past, Golato incumbent A. James Golato, who is running for the County Council has represented the school board district from the Bowie area," Donovan says. "Kettering has had a number of problems with a number of things. They want their own member on the board to represent them. For that reason, I'm supporting Don."
Donovan says Greenawalt is "a bright, intelligent, common-sense sort of person." But he adds that Greenawalt's hopes to change the status of religion in county schools would probably come to naught. "He would be one member on a nine-member board," he says. "He can have that view, but I don't think he'll have any influence in that area."
In fact, the proposal that Greenawalt makes that would involve the most fundamental change in the school system has nothing to do with religion, but with his background in computers. "I think that a big part of the budget problem can be solved by the use of technology," he says. He recommends greater use of computers, audio-visual equipment and other teaching aids that students can use themselves, and at their own pace, to free instructors to work with students having difficulty. "With larger class sizes, the traditional teacher is very much bottlenecked," he says.
Greenawalt says the changes inspired by his religious convictions would not require major restructuring of the schools: It would simply mean voluntary prayer, and "the right to have Christian fellowship clubs, and the right to have a winter festival that's called a Christmas Festival."
Yet, he says, these changes would alter significantly the atmosphere of school life. With school prayer forbidden, he says, "we have presented an environment where it's not acceptable to talk about religion. . . . You can't even mention that God exists. In effect, the schools are teaching atheism." He says he is worried that Christian families will remove their children from such schools until "the only people left are people who do not adhere[to Christianity]. Is that the sort of place you would want to send your children?" he asks.
"I take the Bible to be the literal truth," he says, and notes that it provides rules to raise children. "The only proper way to raise children, as far as I'm concerned, is . . . in a proper, God-oriented environment." He says he would never support compulsory prayer, but adds that he does not believe "anyone is hurt by recognition of a time for voluntary prayer." For all children, he adds, it can help foster "respect for authority, government, parents and those in leadership positions."
Greenawalt would like to see stronger discipline imposed on students. He wants corporal punishment instituted in elementary schools, and greater use of in-school suspensions in secondary schools. Under that system, suspended students could be made to work in special classrooms, rather being than sent home.
Greenawalt, who ran for Congress as a Democrat last year in what he terms "a highly unsuccessful campaign" against Steny Hoyer, says he plans to spend between $10,000 and $12,000 for the school board race--a much larger amount than most candidates have spent in the past. He hopes to have a 22-day advertising campaign before the Sept. 14 primary, including advertising on religion-format radio stations.
He acknowledges that it will be difficult to wrest the school board seat away from heavily populated Bowie. "The reason some of the people in Kettering wanted me to run is because they don't want someone from Bowie," Greenawalt says. Bowie is "one of my biggest obstacles."