In a case that reminds us of the ongoing ordeal of James Corbett, the California high school teacher who referred to creationism as “superstitious nonsense” and who was then sued by a student, we have news of yet another public school teacher who alleges that she has been made to suffer for teaching what the schools are supposed to teach.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) reports A teacher punished over evolution? Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
In early 2005, the parents of a girl in [North Carolina middle school science teacher] Pamela Hensley’s eighth-grade science class alleged that Hensley gave their daughter a low grade in retaliation for her comments during the class discussion on evolution, complaining that she was “antagonistic and rude when her beliefs are challenged by true ‘Christian’ students.” After investigating, the principal concluded that there was no retaliation. According to Hensley, however, the parents lobbied the district to force her to apologize, to transfer her, and to revise its curriculum to “include a religious view of the teaching of science.”
It’s a jungle out there. The NCSE article continues:
Hensley was eventually asked by the school district to sign a letter of apology; regarding it as containing false statements as originally drafted, she refused. She was then transferred, mid-year, to a different position in the district. She was told that the incident “remains a source of tension and distraction within the school system, and it has diminished your credibility at North Johnston Middle School.”
It would seem that only creationist teachers have credibility in that school system. Continuing:
In 2007, Hensley filed a complaint in the Johnson County Superior Court, subsequently removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleging that the district’s actions violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans With Disabilities Act. On December 23, 2010, the court granted (PDF) summary judgment for the defendants with regard to all of Hensley’s claims except for her Americans With Disabilities Act claim.
NCSE has an archive of the court pleadings: Hensley v. Johnston County Board of Education,. This is the order of dismissal (pdf file). We note that this doesn’t appear to be a summary judgment, just a dismissal. We think it’s possible that Hensley could file an amended complaint.
Now we turn to an article on this case by Lauri Lebo. If you don’t yet know who she is, the next two indented paragraphs will fill you in.
During the forty-day trial that led to the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, Lauri was a reporter for the York Daily Record, the local paper for the site of the trial. Lauri’s byline was the brand name for superbly written, in-depth news stories from the courthouse.
Lauri and her work were prominently mentioned in the NOVA documentary, Judgment Day. She is also the author of: The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America.
Lauri’s latest is at the website Religion Dispatches, where we read: Was a Teacher Disciplined for Refusing to Apologize for Teaching Science? Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
According to Hensley’s complaint, the parents demanded she publicly admit she demonstrated “unconstitutional hostility against the beliefs of the Christian students in the classroom by questioning the literal content of the Bible and by teaching her theological position that the Bible contains errors.”
What’s with this feckless apology stuff? Why didn’t they just burn the woman at the stake? Isn’t that the traditional punishment for blasphemy? Let’s read on:
It’s difficult to tell exactly what took place in the classroom and whether Hensley overstepped her boundaries in a discussion of religion. Nonetheless, this all leads me to wonder, if a student argues in class that the bible is life’s literal blueprint, facts be damned, is it wrong for a teacher, in the course of teaching science, to correct the student’s misinformed worldview? Or, in the interest of not offending the child and parents, must the teacher coddle such ignorance?
It’s too early to know whether Hensley is going to appeal the dismissal — or maybe file an amended complaint. It’s also too early to know if this kind of creationist aggression signals a national trend — a jihad against science in the classroom. We’ll keep an eye on both of those questions.
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