March 04, 2006

Schools, the ACLU, conduct, etc.

I did a little Googling about the situation down in the Indian River School District to see if I could get a handle on the timeline regarding Mona Dobrich and her lawsuit against said district. Mainly, I wanted to see if it jibed with what my source down in that district had to say about the whole affair.

Dobrich's initial complaint is that the district allowed a denominational prayer (Christian) at a graduation (Sussex Central HS), to which Dobrich said "she felt excluded." But that wasn't all.

The lawsuit alleges the district has created "an environment of religious exclusion" and that school-sponsored prayer, often explicitly Christian, is pervasive.

The lawsuit alleges prayers are used at official school board meetings, athletic events, banquets and graduation services; that a Bible club is offered at Selbyville Middle School, and students who participate receive preferential treatment; and that religion has worked its way into some classrooms.

The lawsuit claims a social studies teacher at Selbyville Middle told his class there is "only one true religion" and a science teacher told her class she did not believe in the "big-bang theory" of the creation of the universe. She then encouraged students to attend the Bible club to learn more.

My source says that after the complaint about graduation prayer, myriad meetings were held across the district to clarify and set policies. Indeed, the district agreed to stop prayers at graduations. But the Dobrichs' other complaints were maintained, and indeed, that's why they filed their lawsuit.

My source says that there is indeed a Bible Club at Selbyville Middle, but that its legality was thoroughly investigated before it was established. It is held during lunch hour, is student led, and the teacher that supervises it does so on his/her own time (it's lunch, after all) and is purely voluntary.

What's forgotten, too, perhaps, is that part of the Dobrichs' lawsuit has already been defeated.

A judge's ruling that an explicitly Christian prayer before a school board meeting is legal -- a small part of a Jewish family's civil rights lawsuit against a Delaware public school district -- could help set a national precedent.

While officially sanctioned prayer in public schools has been illegal for years, national experts said the issue of prayer at school board meetings is unsettled and this case could resolve the matter.

Other courts have found, as U.S. District Judge Joseph J. Farnan Jr. did this month, that a school board is equivalent to a legislature or town council, where courts have ruled prayer is a "tolerable" tradition and legal.

Still, Indian River initially agreed to a settlement of the further complaints, but then backed off, all the while taking advantage, it seems, of Judge Farnan's ruling noted above. So, it seems the Dobrichs and another anonymous couple (how can someone remain anonymous when filing a lawsuit? Doesn't one have the right to face one's accuser?) will now go forward on their other claims, and also, perhaps, to test Judge Farnan's ruling.

Dickie Dunn has more. I think he misses that Judge Farnan had already ruled that school board meeting prayers did not have to be non-denominational. I am also curious as to the $1 million settlement figure Dickie mentions. My source says it was between $100 and $400 thousand. Nevertheless, based on this Googling and my source's info, I now think Indian River has a better chance of prevailing in the lawsuit than I initially did.

Elsewhere, teacher Jay Bennish remains in "hot water" for his anti-Bush, anti-American diatribe in a 10th grade geography classroom in Colorado. The Huffington Post erroneously reports that Bennish was "suspended for criticizing Bush" (it may also be the Washington Times headline); it seems he was actually suspended for unprofessional conduct in the classroom -- mainly, failing to provide a balanced approach to topics and subjects that clearly require it.

I already opined on Bennish; now, his attorney has been on all the pundit shows claiming that Bennish's free speech rights have been violated. I think that whole premise is bunk (I wonder what the ACLU in the Indian River District would say. I mean, a teacher can't opine that he/she doesn't believe in the Big Bang Theory but Bennish's free speech rights have been tossed aside??); in addition, Bennish's lawyer actually said that Bennish's course is designed to allow Bennish to do just what he did. He said (paraphrase) "Bennish is throwing out ideas and statements to his students. He's saying 'disagree with me. Rebut me. Debate me.'"

Does anyone else not see the problem with that? Bennish is a 28 year old college graduate who wants ... 14 to 16 year olds to "take him on"?? Wow, what a "man"! What a "stud"! A guy with a college education in the subject he teaches "debating" kids half his age. Give me a royal break. A REAL teacher would provide viewpoints from both sides of the political spectrum, and then ask the kids to debate the given topic.

Conservative Thinking, which apparently is located near Bennish's district, has much much more. I especially liked this one student comment about Bennish culled from Rate My Teachers.com:

A teacher who knows his stuff but refuses to teach it! Stop complaining and start teaching.

I once wrote back on the old "Cube" about my cooperating teacher when I did my student teaching. (Quick aside: Delawarean Mike McKain of McLefty is currently doing his student teaching; send him your well wishes if you have a sec 'cause student teaching is indeed a "trying" time!) This teacher was very conservative; however, he was adamant -- ADAMANT -- that I, or anyone else, not bring their personal politics into the classroom, and, in addition, that a balanced presentation be offered especially for more controversial subjects. Period. This teacher would even refuse to discuss his personal views with students after school or even out in public if he ran into some of his students.

He never moaned about his First Amendment rights in the classroom. Know why? He was a professional. He understood what his job was and he did it -- properly.

Here's Bennish's class syllabus, supposedly. In he writes "Students need to learn for themselves, in the end, this make their education more meaningful and relevant." Yes, but Mr. Bennish, aren't you supposed to assist in this learning? And how can students learn if they're only getting one side of the story? Elsewhere, he ironically writes "The main objective of my class is to help students to think for themselves ..." and "Students will be treated as adults, as long as they demonstrate mature, responsible behavior. Since discussions and participation are a significant part of my class, all students must feel comfortable sharing their ideas."

But they're not adults, Mr. Bennish. And it is very unlikely that "students will feel comfortable sharing their ideas" if they constantly only hear ONE version of events from their instructor!

Dignan dissects Bennish's recorded classroom lecture.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention in this post that yesterday I sent an e-mail to the Delaware Civil Liberties Union asking them if they had threatened a lawsuit -- or at least expressed interest in -- the Christina School District's accommodation of Muslim students during Ramadan (see here). So far, no reply.

Posted by Hube at March 4, 2006 09:03 AM | TrackBack

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