June 26, 2015

Parent Sues Indiana Teacher for Segregating Atheist 2nd-Grader

Balanza de la Justicia
Balanza de la Justicia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Suppose that you are the parent of a 2nd-grader attending public school. Your child and his or her classmates are playing on the playground shortly before lunch. One of the children asks your child if he or she goes to church, and your child says no. Your family does not attend church because you do not believe in gods. Pretty straightforward, isn't it? Just one problem: the classmate who hears this from your child takes offense and complains to a playground supervisor who reports the incident to a teacher.

This is the point in the story where things take a dark turn. The teacher asks your child if he or she told a classmate that he or she does not believe in gods. Your child says yes. The teacher then interrogates your child about his or her religious beliefs, the religious practices of your family, and whether he or she "believed that maybe God exists." After all of this, the teacher segregates your child from the rest of the class for three days, making him or her sit alone during lunch and prohibiting him or her from interacting with the other students.

Unfortunately, the situation I've just described is not hypothetical. According to reporting by Rebecca S. Green in The Journal Gazette, this is what has been alleged in a federal lawsuit brought by the parent of a 2nd-grade boy against a teacher at Forest Park Elementary School in Indiana. The suit, filed by the ACLU of Indiana, alleges that the teacher violated the constitutional rights of this student.

If the allegations described in this article provide an accurate depiction of events as they unfolded, it sounds as though the teacher must have decided that the hurt feelings reported by one of the boy's classmates were sufficient grounds to publicly shame the boy.
According to court documents, the boy is now anxious and fearful about school, believing many teachers and students hate him and some classmates will not talk to him.
The boy's feelings are certainly understandable here. And the real tragedy is that he might be correct about some of the teachers and other students now hating him.

Update: As of September 22, the lawsuit has been dropped after both sides agreed to support a motion to dismiss it.

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