Teacher seizes candy canes, says ‘Jesus is not allowed’

Jan 8, 2014 by

A first-grade teacher at a public elementary school in Southern California allegedly snatched a bunch of candy canes bearing a brief religious message from a first-grade boy. She told the poor kid “Jesus is not allowed in school” and then — right in front of his little six-year-old eyes — ripped the religious messages from each candy cane and dumped them in a trashcan.

The boy’s name is Isaiah Martinez. He attends Merced Elementary School in the Los Angeles suburb of West Covina.

The first-grade teacher accused of religious bullying is Valerie Lu. One of the candy canes was for her. The rest were for Martinez’s classmates.

Lu conferred with school principal Gordon Pfitzer before somehow deciding that partially destroying a kid’s religious candy canes in front of him would be an intelligent, decent thing for a human being to do.

The candy canes were for a holiday party—the kind virtually every grade-school kid in America experiences just before winter break. Each candy cane came attached with a message about how the Christmas-associated peppermint treat was originally a symbol of the life of Jesus Christ.

Martinez’s older sister, Alexandra Cantu, helped the boy put the candy canes and the messages together. She told CBS Los Angeles that her little brother was pretty upset about what happened.

“He was like, ‘Yeah, but my teacher took the letters off and threw them in the trash. And I had to give it to them without the letters,’” Cantu explained.

School officials eventually let Martinez hand out full versions of his religious-themed candy canes—off campus, at the end of the day on the last day of school, while all the kids were scurrying home for break.

On Monday, Robert H. Tyler, an attorney with a California-based nonprofit law firm called Faith & Freedom, released a demand letter on behalf of Martinez. Tyler called the actions of the teacher, the principal and the school district “hostile and intimidating.”

In a statement, Tyler noted that religious bullying by teachers and administrators is a big and burgeoning problem.

“The pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that public schools are becoming a place of hostility toward Christian and other religiously-based worldviews,” the statement said.

In the lengthy demand letter, Tyler explains that other students in Isaiah’s class handed out Christmas gifts to classmates with no problems. The packaging on those gifts included imagery such as Santa Claus, penguins with Santa hats and Christmas trees.

He also explains basic First Amendment law as it applies to kids expressing themselves in school. He quotes a 2007 Supreme Court case: “Student expression may not be suppressed unless school officials reasonably conclude that it will ‘materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.”

It’s not clear how the distribution of candy canes would materially and substantially disrupt a school holiday party.

Tyler’s letter also observes that California law accords students even broader speech protections than the protections afforded under the federal First Amendment.

The letter demands a new school district-wide policy prohibiting teachers and school officials from treating religious students unequally, prejudicially or with hostility. It also seeks a written apology.

Tyler additionally asks the West Covina Unified School District to provide teachers and school officials with remedial First Amendment training “particularly as it relates to the rights of students to express themselves with religious viewpoints.”

Faith & Freedom has set a Jan. 13 deadline for the West Covina school district to comply with its demand letter.

On Monday, reports CBS Los Angeles, school district superintendent superintendent Debra Kaplan released a statement saying: “At the present time, we do not have any reason to believe that the teacher or any other district employee had any intention other than to maintain an appropriate degree of religious neutrality in the classroom and to communicate this to the child in an age-appropriate manner.”

via Teacher seizes candy canes, says ‘Jesus is not allowed’ | The Daily Caller.

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  1. Avatar
    Rebecca Smith

    This event, which indicates that a “value” of adult intimidation and bullying of a young student is held higher than that of respecting the joy of giving, in itself shows why we are becoming an increasingly amoral society. (Not to mention this: if the teacher is such a miracle worker that all of her first grade students can read a simple religious message on a candy wrapper, then she should be concentrating on planning her next wonderful reading lesson, instead of destroying a little moment of happiness for her students.)

    • Avatar
      Teacher with a Brain

      I grow weary of sensational articles of this sort. There are what, several million classrooms in the U.S.? This teacher behaved inappropriately and showed very poor judgement. This occurs as teachers (occasionally) make poor judgements, and these teachers can represent the entire spectrum of viewpoint and belief. Despite the clear ruling on the mixing of religion in the public sphere in a manner that links it WITH the institution itself (scripture reading in classrooms or over the loud speaker, prayer recitation, etc.) there are religious teachers out, about and around the U.S. who continue to violate this common sense ruling as well. And, there are teachers who lack all common sense and sensitivity.
      I am NOT a Christian, however I teach any number of Christian students. I would never muzzle them, or behave in such a manner. I stress the value of respecting religious freedom, which includes the freedom FROM having to endure proselytizing in the public sphere on public time. Of course children may include religiously inspired messages on school gifts, etc., no one is FORCED to read or listen to the message. However, when a graduation speaker gushes forth with Bible verse, etc., everyone attending the ceremony is pretty much captive, forced to listen and the right of student speakers to expound their religious views to a captive audience seems to be pretty much protected.
      Articles of this sort are intended to whip up our emotions and anger, to give us the impression this kind of behavior is rampant, occurring in every public school of America. In fact, it is relatively rare and individual instances such as this are, and should be, dealt with. Remedial mandates that include requiring all teachers in the system to participate in inservice education are indeed unfortunate, as the overwhelming majority of us understand very well the guarantees of freedom of speech in our Bill of Rights. The teacher involved should be handled, and an occasional quick overview for everyone about where First Amendment rights begin and end can be accomplished in 5-10 minutes.
      I would like to see good, common sense rule.

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