After a public school teacher was recorded telling students they belonged in hell if they did not accept Jesus as their savior, the school board has banned taping in class without an instructor’s permission, and has added training for teachers on the legal requirements for separating church and state.
A junior at Kearny High School in New Jersey, Matthew LaClair, 16, complained to his principal after the teacher in his American history class, David Paszkiewicz, told students that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark and that only Christians had a place in heaven. He started recording the comments in September because, he said, he was afraid school officials would not otherwise believe that the teacher had made them. Matthew said he was ridiculed and threatened after his criticism became public.
After several students complained to the school board that their voices had been broadcast on the Internet and on television news programs without their consent, the board adopted a policy in mid-January that requires students to request permission from an instructor to record or videotape a class.
“Adoption of this rule at this time sends all the wrong messages,” said Paul LaClair, Matthew’s father. “We were in negotiations and this is extremely ill-advised and disrespectful, if not bad faith.”
About the same time, the school board president, Bernadette McDonald, addressed a memo to the Kearny School District community that every teacher would receive mandatory instruction about how to interpret the Constitution’s separation of church and state and how it should apply to classroom discussions. Ms. McDonald also asked the school board to adopt a policy showing “its strong commitment to the principle that the personal religious beliefs of our instructional staff have no place in our classrooms.”
Kenneth J. Lindenfelser, the board’s lawyer, said classes were being planned to inform students of their constitutional rights, to encourage them to come forward with questions and to explain that people “who exercise their rights should not be viewed negatively.”
School officials said they took “corrective action” against Mr. Paszkiewicz, but would not elaborate.
Meanwhile, Matthew said that Mr. Paszkiewicz recently told the class that scientists who spoke about the danger of global warming were using tactics like those Hitler used, by repeating a lie often enough that people come to believe it.
Mr. Lindenfelser said that the district did not investigate the report of that comment, which he said was not religious or a violation of “any kind of law.”