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Lawsuit claims students not allowed to carry Bibles

By: Harvey Rice
Date: 23 May 2000
URL: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/metropolitan/560670
Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle

WILLIS -- School officials were silent Tuesday about a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of three pupils, accusing the Willis school district of refusing to allow children to carry or read the Bible.

The lawsuit, filed in Houston, alleges that a teacher at Lynn Lucas Middle School pulled two sisters from class after discovering that they were carrying Bibles and threatened to have them picked up by child-welfare authorities.

Another teacher told a pupil he was not allowed to read the Bible during free reading time and forced him to put it away, the lawsuit alleges. The boy also was required to remove a Ten Commandments book cover from another book, the lawsuit states.

School district officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Mathew Staver, a lawyer whose Liberty Counsel legal defense organization filed the lawsuit Friday on behalf of the three pupils and their parents, said the district was served with the lawsuit Monday. Liberty Counsel is based in Orlando, Fla.

The lawsuit accuses the district of four violations of the U.S. Constitution, three violations of the Texas Constitution and two violations of state laws. It asks that a judge order the district to allow the carrying of Bibles in school and the use of book covers printed with the Ten Commandments or other religious content.

"My daughters called me, were hysterical, and said, 'Mama, they took our Bibles and called them garbage and threw them in the garbage and then threatened to call Child Protective Services,' " Deborah Bedenbender, 37, a Willis homemaker, said Tuesday.

Her daughters by a previous marriage, Angela Harbison, 15, and Amber Harbison, 13, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She and her husband, Jody, 50, a contractor, are joining the case, as well.

The trouble occurred during a Saturday class the two sisters were required to attend to make up for time missed while they were ill, the lawsuit states.

Bedenbender said she took the girls to class March 11 and each carried a Bible, as they had in previous Saturday sessions.

"We arrived at school and she was checking on us," Angela said of teacher Sara Flottman, who is named in the lawsuit.

"She waved (Angela's) Bible in Amber's face and said, 'Do you have one of these?' " Angela said.

She said Flottman took her and Amber to the school office, threw their Bibles in a wastebasket and said, "We don't tolerate this garbage in school."

Angela said another teacher was in charge when she and her sister brought Bibles to previous Saturday classes. March 11 was the first day Flottman had handled the class when the girls were present, Angela said.

Bedenbender said the girls called her from school and that she calmed them and asked to speak with the teacher. An angry exchange occurred and Bedenbender alleges that Flottman threatened to have the children removed by Child Protective Services if she failed to pick them up within 30 minutes.

Bedenbender said she retrieved the Bibles from the wastebasket and left with her daughters. A week later she withdrew them from the district and began home-schooling them. Three others of her nine children are still attending school in the district, she said.

The lawsuit also alleges that a teacher required Jeremy Pasket, 13, to remove a Ten Commandments book cover from a book.

A teacher, identified in the lawsuit only as "Mrs. Billingsley," also told Jeremy to put his Bible away and that he could not have it at school, the lawsuit alleges.

The boy and his father, Robert Pasket, a welder from Willis, joined the Bedenbenders in the lawsuit. The Paskets could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Named as defendants are the school district, the school board, Superintendent Kay Karr, Lynn Lucas Middle School principal Rayford McIlhaney, vice principals Keith Wienecke and Rhonda Hill, and Flottman.

None of them could be reached for comment.

Staver said the district had 20 days in which to respond. He said he hopes to reach an agreement that would allow the two sisters to return to school.

"We would like the school's cooperation to make sure this wouldn't happen again," he said. "If they can't give us some assurances, we're going to ask the court."

The lawsuit accuses the school district of violating the pupils' constitutional right to free speech and violating the Constitution's establishment clause, which prohibits excessive government entanglement with religion.

The district also is accused of violating the children's right to free exercise of religion and denying them equal protection under the Constitution.

Staver said federal courts may also hear cases alleging violations of state laws if they are accompanied by federal violations. Therefore, the suit also alleges violation of freedom of speech, free exercise of religion and the right to equal protection under the Texas Constitution.

The district violated state laws on parental rights and exercise of religion, the lawsuit alleges.


Bibles, book covers cause school grief

Date: 1 June 2000
Source: Associated Press (URL: http://news.excite.com/news/ap/000601/12/religion-briefs)

CONROE, Texas (AP) - A legal watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against the Willis Independent School District, claiming it violated the federal and state constitutions by denying several students freedom of religion and speech.

In one case, the group charged, Sara Flotman, a middle school teacher, tossed the Bibles of two students into a trash can, saying, "This is trash." The plaintiffs are Angela Harbison, 15, and her sister, Amber, 13. The lawsuit also claims the school district told three students to remove book covers with the Ten Commandments printed on them. One of those students, Jeremy Pasket, and his parents, also are plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Houston by the Florida-based Liberty Counsel. Willis school district officials declined comment, saying they had yet to see it.

Mat Staver, the plaintiffs' attorney, said the lawsuit "seeks to educate the educators. Despite their misguided beliefs, the Constitution is still the law of the land."


Group drops suit against teachers

Date: 10 June 2000
Source: Assocciated Press (URL: http://chat.amarillonet.com/stories/061000/tex_LD0717.shtml)

WILLIS (AP) - A federal lawsuit accusing Willis school district teachers of confiscating and throwing away Bibles and ordering students to remove religious book covers has been dropped by the legal watchdog group that filed it.

District Superintendent Kay Karr said in a written statement Thursday the lawsuit was voluntarily withdrawn by Florida-based Liberty Counsel and that "students of Willis Independent School District have not been told they cannot bring Bibles to school, and Bibles were never thrown into the trash."

Mathew Staver, a lawyer with Liberty Counsel, said the lawsuit's withdrawal was an attempt to avoid a court battle and reach a mutually satisfying agreement between the parties involved.

Staver said the action was based on a promise from district officials that they would work toward adopting federal guidelines on religion in schools.

The lawsuit accused Lynn Lucas Middle School teacher Sara Flottman of throwing away the Bibles of 15-year-old Angela and 13-year-old Amber Harbison and threatening to have the sisters taken into custody by Child Protective Services.

The lawsuit also alleges that a teacher required Jeremy Pasket, 13, and two other students to remove book covers with the Ten Commandments printed on them.

Staver said if progress isn't made in two weeks he will refile the lawsuit, which was originally filed in U.S. District Court in Houston.


Texan town torn over schoolgirl's football prayer
Evangelicals call fellow student 'the Jew that Hitler missed'

Source: Daily Telegraph, 7 Jul 2000
Author: Bob Fenton
URL: http://www.smh.com.au:80/news/0007/07/text/pageone06.html

The prayer, which invoked the name of Jesus, landed a 17-year-old cheerleader in front of the United States Supreme Court. Judges ruled that Marian Ward should not have mentioned Christ when she prayed for good sportsmanship and an injury-free football match.

By doing so, she was deemed to have breached the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits public bodies such as an education authority from endorsing any particular faith.

When America's Founding Fathers decided to decree against an established church in the First Amendment, they were prompted by loftier concerns. Memories of persecution by established churches in Europe were fresh in their minds.

But, as the Santa Fe case shows, the arguments are still reverberating more than 200 years later.

The Supreme Court's split decision on the prayer was the latest in a series of such judgments.

State-run schools are not allowed to hold prayers in morning assemblies. Every few years, Christian groups support a school that is trying to define the boundaries of the First Amendment. Their efforts are opposed by liberal organisations fighting to keep the boundaries strong and well-defined.

Passions have run high in Santa Fe, a small town with at least a dozen churches, including the Baptist chapel of John Ward, Marian's father. He said: "The confusion for these kids is that they are allowed to go to school and learn all kinds of moral relativism and be taught about different kinds of foreign cultures, but they aren't allowed to pray to Jesus."

Mary Key, whose son goes to the school, said the court's ruling was too rigid an exercise of separation between church and state. "No one was shoving prayer down their throats," she said of the Catholic and Mormon families who brought the case, backed by civil rights groups. "They had the option to go or not to go to football."

But not everyone in the town agreed. Although overwhelmingly members of Protestant denominations, Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Muslims are among the high school's pupils.

One Jewish mother, Donna Nevelow, said that an atmosphere of hatred had been engendered by the case. Swastikas had been drawn on her son's books in the school and he had been called "the Jew that Hitler missed".

Three Protestant boys have been arrested for assaulting him.

Another non-Protestant woman said: "They know they are not allowed to spend our money to try to convert our people to their way of thinking. But they just can't help themselves."

Zealots were "chipping away to make us all just like them".


Articles about the Helene Schroeter Anti-Latter-day Saint Discrimination Controversy


Ethnic cleansing or censorship?
English teacher ejects students for bringing Book of Mormon to free-reading time

Source: Deseret News, 3 November 2000
By: Jennifer Toomer-Cook
URL: http://www.deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,225007327,00.html?

A handful of students were kicked out of a West High English class this week after they brought copies of the Book of Mormon to free-reading time.

Parent Teresa Powell said her son, Tyler, was among a handful of students escorted out of class Tuesday, apparently because the teacher found the scriptures offensive.

But Powell's son understood students could read any book they wanted to during free-reading time.

"It wasn't preaching. It wasn't reading out loud. He just opened his book and did quiet reading during reading time," Powell said Friday. "I think they have that choice, and for her to discriminate against the LDS religion is really sad."

Three other parents could not be reached for comment by press time Friday or they did not feel comfortable being interviewed.

Salt Lake City School District received a complaint Wednesday regarding the incident, west area director Patrick Garcia said.

"We did receive a complaint regarding children being kicked out of class for having the Book of Mormon. That is under investigation right now," he said. "Just as soon as we know what transpired, we'll let the word out."

Both the principal and teacher stayed home from school due to illness Friday, so the investigation was put off until Monday, said Kathy Black, president of the Salt Lake City Board of Education.

A district press release Friday said principal Joyce Gray has conducted a preliminary investigation and hopes to have the full investigation completed by Tuesday.

Black said four students were taken to the counseling center, and eight students in all had copies of the Book of Mormon on their desks.

"The teacher's policy was that they were to bring fiction for their free-reading time, so this was obviously not what she asked for," Black said.

The teacher asked the students to remove the religious materials from their desks, Black said. One student did not comply with the request, resulting in a confrontation with the teacher.

"Students have been asked to put in writing what happened," Black said. "If we find inappropriate behavior on the part of the students or teacher, we will take appropriate action."

The incident raises the question of whether reading scripture in class blurs the line between church and state.

If students were allowed to read anything of their choice during silent reading time, that would appear to open the door to a religious text, such as the Koran or Bible, state school law specialist Carol Lear said.

The Book of Mormon is considered scripture by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Black, however, said the teacher asked for fiction only.

The courts have ruled students can initiate prayer circles, pray to themselves or wear religious symbols such as a crucifix or yarmulke to school under the First Amendment. They also can offer spontaneous prayer at a high school graduation.

The law gets sticky, however, when books, symbols or other private religious practices conducted in school are viewed to be endorsed by the school, imposing on other students or otherwise disruptive.

For instance, a coach cannot pray with students before a game, nor can students lead stadium crowds in prayer because it infers school endorsement of a particular religion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year.


West High School Contact Information

241 North 300 West
Salt Lake City, Utah 84103
Phone: (801)578-8500
Fax: (801)578-8500
District: Salt Lake City
Enrollment: 2123
West High School - Utah Link web site

Religious Book Stirs Classroom Incident

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 4 November 2000
By: Ashley Estes
URL: http://www.sltrib.com/11042000/utah/39739.htm

The mother of one of three students allegedly removed from a West High School English class for having copies of The Book of Mormon on their desks said her daughter has refused to return to the classroom.

"If she did a bad thing in class, then [the teacher] has a right to kick her out," Ilaisaane Fisiipeau said Friday of her daughter, Melanie. "But she didn't. She just had her Book of Mormon on her desk, and then put it on her lap. The teacher wasn't satisfied with that."

Melanie Fisiipeau was one of three students reportedly escorted out of the classroom by security earlier this week for having the bookjs on their desks. The students apparently planned to read them during their free time. But the teacher, who has not been identified, called the books offensive and called security, claiming the students were causing a disruption.

Salt Lake City School District officials said the incident remains under investigation. "At this point, we don't know exactly what happened," said Patrick Garcia, west area director for the district.

West High Principal Joyce Gray started an investigation of the incident, interviewing the students and the teacher, but was out sick on Friday, Garcia said in a statement. He said Gray plans to finish the investigation and take appropriate action upon her return to work. The matter could be resolved by Tuesday, Garcia said.

The students were likely back in class on Friday, he said. "They weren't suspended or anything."

But Ilaisaane Fisiipeau said her daughter didn't want to return to the classroom and didn't attend English class on Thursday.

She said her daughter likely studied elsewhere instead.

"She must attend English class," Ilaisaane Fisiipeau said. But "she doesn't want to go back. I don't know if she's going back. I didn't ask her."

If the students choose not to return to the class while the investigation is ongoing, "the administration would work with them," Garcia said.

There is a... seminary [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] at West High School, he said. Mormon students may attend seminary classes during the day, where they study the theology and doctrine of the... Church. The Book of Mormon is one of the faith's primary scriptures.

Ilaisaane Fisiipeau said she was "disappointed" by the way the incident was handled, and said her daughter was upset. The family has not been contacted by the school or the district, she said.

Garcia said the district had received calls from "several parents" on the issue. He refused comment on whether the teacher would face sanctions, saying it would be premature to comment before Gray's investigation is complete.

Reached by telephone, Melanie Fisiipeau and another student refused to comment Friday, saying they were tired of talking to the media about the incident.

An American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman refused comment Friday, though she said media reports the organization was considering involvement were false at this point.


Lawyer helping W. High pupils in discrimination case

Source: Deseret News, 8 November 2000
By: Jennifer Toomer-Cook
URL: http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,230007237,00.html?

Attorneys are getting involved in an incident in which students were kicked out of a West High English class for bringing scriptures to free-reading time.

And that has stalled the school's investigation, initially expected to be finished by Tuesday.

"We felt that we needed to have our attorney present, also," Salt Lake City Board of Education President Kathy Black said. "It has delayed (the investigation) so we can get all parties at the same table."

Salt Lake attorney Frank Mylar is assisting families of four involved students.

"As for the need to file a lawsuit, that depends on the attitude of West High," said Mylar, a conservative, former assistant attorney general who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general earlier this year. "We're willing to do that if that's what it takes."

Last week, eight students brought copies of The Book of Mormon to free-reading time in English class. Their teacher told the students to remove the scriptures from their desks. The teacher's policy is to allow only fictional works for free reading, Black said last week.

Mylar said students were not told of such a policy.

A handful of students were escorted from class following the incident. Reports conflict as to whether three or four students were removed.

West High Principal Joyce Gray is interviewing students and the teacher as part of her investigation.

But Mylar doesn't like Gray's tactics. The English teacher and a handful of other faculty members have sat in on at least some of the principal's interviews with individual students, putting the youths on edge.

"Doing an investigation with the teacher sitting there is a little strange to me," said parent Dave Dunn, whose daughter was kicked out of class that day. "I would like to see and somehow get the district and the school to adopt a policy that would prevent this from ever happening to students again, to keep their constitutional rights from being trodden on by anybody."

West junior Christopher King was interviewed about what he views as inappropriate comments coming from the English teacher. He is not in the same class period, however, nor has he tried to read scriptures during class.

"I'd like this to stop . . . I would like her to keep her opinions and comments to herself so we can move on and do what we need to in English," King said. "I don't want to hurt her personal life or put her job in jeopardy, but I'd like her to respect our wishes."

The incident has struck a chord with people across the country. The Deseret News has received more than 40 e-mails about the incident from readers in states from South Carolina to Hawaii and from Canada.

The courts have ruled students can initiate prayer circles, pray silently or wear religious symbols such as a crucifix or yarmulke to school under the First Amendment. They also can offer spontaneous prayer at a high school graduation.

But religious books, symbols or other private practices conducted in school cannot be viewed as school-endorsed or impose on other students or otherwise create disruption. So a coach cannot pray with an athletic team, and students cannot lead stadium crowds in prayer under the Constitution.


Teachers union attempts to defend English teacher accused of ethnic/religious discrimination

Source: "Teachers union backs actions of teacher on Book of Mormon issue" in Deseret News, 10 November 2000
By: Jennifer Toomer-Cook
URL: http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,230007749,00.html?

A teachers union is backing a West High teacher who kicked students out of class for having copies of the Book of Mormon on their desks.

The Salt Lake Teachers Association on Thursday also accused the students of making up "false and defamatory stories" about an English teacher who "did nothing more than follow her curriculum."

But the Salt Lake City Board of Education president says the union's statement is out of line. And parents believe their children will be vindicated.

"We met today with the district, and it was a very good meeting," parent Dave Durr said. "Our hopes are (officials) will vindicate the students and show that it isn't a fabrication."

Last week, a group of West High students brought copies of the Book of Mormon to an English class for free-reading time. The teacher asked that the religious materials be put away. Three students apparently did not obey and were escorted out of class by security.

But the teachers union contends students were told they would not have free reading time that day and were asked to read "The Scarlet Letter" instead. Even if they were to have free-reading time, students had been told they must read a Colonial-period historical account or novel, the teacher said.

School board president Kathy Black has said the teacher has a "fiction-only" reading policy.

The teacher asked the students to put the Books of Mormon away because "it's not appropriate at this time," said Elaine Tzourtzouklis, president of the teachers union.

Three students did not comply and became disruptive, she said. The teacher called security, a standard procedure in Salt Lake high schools. A classroom volunteer corroborated the story, she said.

"It's not because it was the Book of Mormon on their desks. It was because they were disruptive, and they didn't listen to her. She could not do her job," said Tzourtzouklis, describing the teacher as an 18-year veteran with a spotless record.

"The teacher never said anything derogatory against the religion . . . (or) had a chance to tell the parents her side of the story. It's time that the teacher's story be heard."

But the union's statement floored parents. They say the teacher opened the class to free-reading time, and that their children have a right to bring whatever book they choose. They also say the teacher in the past has made comments about religion that have made their children uncomfortable.

Teacher "has a problem with LDS people"

"Obviously, (the teacher) has a problem with the LDS people. It may have just gotten to the point where (students) were standing up for what they felt were their rights and beliefs," parent Larry Powell said. "All we ever wanted her to do is teach English and keep her political views to herself and religious views to herself."

School board president Black was as shocked as parents.

"I'm surprised and disappointed that the association has chosen to send this statement to the media. We're still in the middle of the investigation, and I think that any statement at this time, one way or the other, could possibly jeopardize that investigation," she said.

The district has taken over the investigation initiated by West High principal Joyce Gray last week. Gray had interviewed students with the teacher and other adults in the room; parents said that put their children on edge.

Parents have secured a lawyer to accompany them and their children to district interviews. The district has done the same.


West teacher accused of bigotry gets administrative leave

Source: Deseret News, 15 November 2000
URL: http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,230008858,00.html?

The West High teacher accused of kicking students out of class for bringing copies of the Book of Mormon to read has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

The teacher has been on leave since the investigation began according to standard procedure, Salt Lake City Board of Education President Kathy Black said Wednesday.

The district's investigation is expected to wrap up Friday, Black said.

About two weeks ago, some students brought copies of the Book of Mormon to an English class for free-reading time. The teacher asked that the religious materials be put away. Three students apparently disobeyed the order and were escorted out of class by security.

A teachers' union is backing the English teacher, an 18-year veteran who the union says rightfully removed disruptive children from class. Salt Lake Teachers Association President Elaine Tzourtzouklis said students were told there would be no free reading time that day. Students were supposed to read Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" instead.

Parents say their children did nothing wrong and believe the district's investigation will vindicate them.


District Finds No Fault in Book of Mormon Dispute

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 29 November 2000
By: Ashley Estes
URL: http://www.sltrib.com/11292000/utah/48807.htm

After investigating a dispute involving a West High School English teacher who had three students kicked out of her class allegedly because they had copies of the Book of Mormon on their desks, the Salt Lake City School District has found no fault on either side.

But the district has decided to provide sensitivity training for the teacher and her class, making sure teachers understand provisions of the First Amendment and that students are aware of proper channels for raising concerns about perceived discrimination.

The district and the Salt Lake Teachers' Association on Tuesday jointly released a statement -- which was negotiated with the students' parents -- that said the Oct. 31 incident was fueled by "miscommunication, misunderstanding and overreaction" and has now been resolved.

Dolores Riley, assistant district superintendent, refused comment on whether the teacher would face disciplinary action, saying it was a personnel matter.

Elaine Tzourtzouklis, president of the teachers' association, previously said the teacher was an 18-year veteran with a spotless record who had security remove the students because they became disruptive after she asked them to put the religious books away.

The association also accused the students of making up anti-religious allegations against the teacher.

But attorney Frank Mylar, who represents the students' families, has said the teacher has demonstrated "a pattern toward derogatory treatment and comments toward the LDS faith in particular."

Teresa Powell, mother of one student, said she has received many phone calls from former students and parents who say the teacher subjected them to similar treatment in the past four years. Her son and another student have transferred out of the class at their parents' request, she said.

Riley acknowledged the district still needs to meet with "parents and students who might have felt that this similar thing happened to them in years past."

She said the district would talk to those parents, probably within a week, but "we needed to complete this first."

The October confrontation occurred during "regular reading time" in the teacher's class, the statement said, but students are supposed to read an "American Literature novel" of their choice during that time, according to the teacher's "Class Disclosure" given to students.

Powell said she didn't know if the families would pursue legal action. "Last night, it depended on the press release," she said. Parents asked the district and the union to change some of the wording in the statement, she said, because it "wasn't very nice."

The statement received by The Salt Lake Tribune says that on the day of the incident, "there was an unusual amount of noise and confusion at the beginning of the class period."

In the original statement, "the way they put it, sounded like the students escorted [from the classroom] were the ones making the noise," Powell said. Her son, Tyler Powell, made no noise, she said, and was reading the Book of Mormon, one of three books of scriptures used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Anytime you have an investigation, and come out with a press release, there are people who are not going to be happy with everything," Riley said.


Federal suit over Latter-day Saint scriptures is possible

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 29 November 2000
By: Jennifer Toomer-Cook
URL: http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,230012043,00.html?

The Salt Lake City School District attributes a Book of Mormon controversy at West High School to misunderstanding and miscommunication, but parents of the students kicked out of class disagree.

"I feel the school district feels like this is the conclusion, but I don't think it's solved anything," parent Sharon Durr said. "I don't want my child accused of being so disruptive in class. What did she do? I want to know that, because she feels she was removed because of her Book of Mormon, which violates her rights."

An attorney for Durr and other parents said Wednesday that a federal lawsuit was possible.

West High English teacher Helene Schroeter, who had been placed on paid administrative leave, is back in class. Dolores Riley, the district assistant superintendent of human resources who investigated the incident, would not say whether Schroeter had been disciplined, citing the teacher's privacy rights.

"There truly was a misperception on both parties (about) what was going on prior to this incident and in the incident itself," Riley said. "We feel there was overreaction on the part of a lot of us involved. I'm not going to point a finger at any one group or person. But because the community or media didn't have all the facts, there was perhaps a lot of speculation that occurred."

On Oct. 31, a group of West High students brought copies of the Book of Mormon to an English class for reading time. The teacher asked students to put away the religious materials. Three students apparently disobeyed and security escorted them out of class.

The three students have transferred to a different class, Durr said.

The school began investigating the incident, but the parents' attorney, Frank Mylar, said students were uncomfortable because the teacher and other adults were present during individual student interviews. The district took over the investigation.

The Salt Lake Teachers Association supported the teacher, whom it called an 18-year veteran with a spotless record. Union President Elaine Tzourtzouklis has said students were asked to read a classroom novel when some students took out scriptures and created a disruption.

But parents said the students believed the teacher had opened the class to free reading time and that they had the right to read whatever book they chose.

The district investigation found the teacher's class disclosure given to students and parents at the first of the year explained American literature novel were to be read during reading time. A joint statement issued by the district and teachers union also reported unusual noise and confusion in class that day.

Student expression is protected under the First Amendment, the district said. But teachers must control what goes on in the classroom, including designating reading materials, so long as it is done for educational reasons and without discrimination, the district said.

If the teacher's instructions are viewed as inappropriate, students should report them to another adult in the school, Riley said.

Durr said that's exactly what happened.

The district said it will take steps to prevent students from feeling discriminated against. It will train faculty regarding students' First Amendment rights, ensure students know of proper channels through which to raise concerns, and continue and add new sensitivity programs.

Mylar is glad the district recognizes problems in protecting students' rights, and parents praise the district's investigative approach.

But Mylar disagrees with the sentiment that students must obey teacher instructions unless they would incur "serious physical damage or injury." He says students have a right to refuse commands that violate their consciences.

"I think the parents and students are not satisfied with this at this time. Certainly a federal lawsuit is something they're interested in looking at."

Mylar is willing to negotiate with the district to find policy changes on how schools handle discrimination claims. He also says the students were treated as criminals when security escorted them from class.


Helene Schroeter
Contact Information


Educator at: West High School.

Teaches Content Type: Foreign Language

Teaches Grade Level: 9 - 12 High School

Position: Teacher

Address:
241 North 300 West
Salt Lake City, Utah 84103

Work Phone: (801) 578-8500


Michigan School District Defies Supreme Court Rulings - Bans Religious Material

By: Carl Limbacher and NewsMax.com Staff
Date: 10 May 2001
Source: NewsMax.com
URL: http://www.newsmax.com/showinsidecover.shtml?a=2001/5/10/112133

A Michigan school district is thumbing its at the U.S. Constitution by banning the presence of any religious material on campus grounds in defiance of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Houghton-Portage Township School District and principal Kathryn Simila are being hauled into court for their unconstitutional anti-religious policies after halting the distribution by some students of Campus Crusade for Christ Student Survival Kits.

Students Valerie Snyder and Danile Duefrene filed suit challenging the District's atheistic policies that absolutely prohibit distribution of any religious material even including the Holy Bible, Torah or Koran.

According to the district's policy: "The distribution of any religious materials, bound or unbound, is prohibited on school grounds or in any attendance facility before, during or after the school day or a school activity. Religious materials as distributed herein may be described as, but not limited to the following: any version of the Bible (including the Gideon Bible), translations of the Septuagint and the Apocrypha, Torah, Koran or any other similar religious books of faith, pamphlets, sectarian or denomination books, tracts, papers or other such materials including pictures, symbols, crosses, statues or icons."

The lawsuit originated after Simila and Assistant Principal Kenneth Klein saw the two students distributing Kits to their friends and ordered them to stop. The students were told that they could not distribute the Campus Crusade Survival Kits to their friends and acquaintances

"The unconstitutionality of the school's policy prohibiting distribution of any religious materials at any time during the school day or after the school day is absolutely staggering." said Erik Stanley, Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel, the Orlando, Florida-based civil liberties education and legal defense organization representing the students.

"The Supreme Court has stated explicitly that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion at the schoolhouse gate. The school's policy shreds the First Amendment, and prohibits students from exercising the rights that they hold.

"This blatant violation of students' rights should not go unchecked. Public schools are not totalitarian regimes where only acceptable statements are allowed. The First Amendment protects students' rights to distribute religious literature on public school campuses during non-instructional time. The Houghton-Portage Township School District is mandated by the Constitution to accept this," Stanley concluded.

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