Resolution in Georgia School Harassment Case

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 14, 2011 — 24 Comments

Yesterday, just hours after I posted an update on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school, another press release was sent out that seems to point to an agreement between Carroll County School District, the Turner family, and coalition of Pagan advocacy groups.

Here’s the full press release:

Statement from Bowdon Elementary School, Carroll County School District, and members of the Turner Family Support Task Force as represented by Lady Liberty League, North Georgia Solitaries, Covenant of the Goddess, Dogwood Local Council, and Circle Sanctuary:

The Turner Family, Task Force, and School District want Bowdon School to be a positive, supportive environment which fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students.

With education, cooperation, and open dialogue, all things are possible.

At times, a lack of life experience and/or other circumstances can make it difficult to perceive how words and actions might cause offense or upset. The parties involved acknowledge that words and deeds can be hurtful even without the intent of making them so.

In an effort to reach a positive and collaborative resolution to recent events, an alliance of the parties involved has come to pass which will set the stage for future education for school staff, students, and parents on the topic of equality and respect for all students and families in the Carroll County School System.

First, a sincere apology for recent events and misunderstandings has been given by School Administration and accepted by the family.

Second, the Bowdon Elementary School guidance Counselor will educate staff and students about honoring and accepting the differences that make us individuals.

Third, procedures have been put in place to ensure classroom activities don’t alienate students. As part of this, the administration and teachers will have yearly training about the District’s Code of Ethics and the responsibilities of each staff member to preserve the integrity of every students’ rights.

We appreciate the hard work and open dialogue of all the parties involved to create this positive resolution. The Turner children will return to school. The Carroll County School District will continue to strive to be a place that fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students regardless of religion, race, national origin, gender or disability.

So it looks like this issue has been largely settled, aside from implementation of these new agreements concerning education on “honoring and accepting” religious differences. Stephanie Turner, mother of Christopher, appeared on the Internet radio show Pagan Warrior Radio last night, and thanked the Pagan community for all the support she and her family has received during this ordeal. Here’s hoping that this incident will act as a message to schools, teachers, and administrators that the rights of religious minorities in public schools are to be taken seriously, and that the Pagan community is more than willing to come together in order to protect our constitutional rights.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://twitter.com/ashareem HRM

    Great response from the District. Here’s hoping that it manifests in reality in the same shape they are working towards.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    This incident will act as a message to educators if they find out about it. I suggest locating the intramural media outlets of the education community and sending them the press release.

  • Kilmrnock

    Tis a good resolution to a bad situation . I’m glad the school was able to see and rectify their errors . The really sad part of the whole affair is that it happened at all . And i agree all educators should recieve the press release , so that future problem in other shools/districts can be headed off b/f any damamge is done . another question ?, was the offending teacher fired? Kilm

    • kenneth

      I very much doubt the teacher was fired given the “this was all just a misunderstanding” conciliatory tone of the resolution. If it was an experienced/tenured teacher you’d need a lot more than this to get rid of them. In the end, it’s best for us if the teacher wasn’t fired. Otherwise we’d have the Alliance Defense Fund and others crowing about how Christians are being led to martyrdom by the “new Caesar” and all that sort of crap. (As it is, we WILL see that with this story on the evangelical forums, but the story won’t have legs for long).

      The fact that these problems typically don’t escalate into a drawn out, no-quarter fight anymore is a good thing. It means our rights are being taken seriously and that public officials, even those who may privately hate us, know that it’s just easier at the end of the day to do the right thing than to test our resolve.

      • Mia

        I agree, and honestly if this was the worst she’s done as a teacher then I’d rather she wasn’t fired off the bat, and instead was given an opportunity to improve herself as a teacher. I feel that there will be less resentment and more listening with that sort of outcome; though that’s just me.

        • Mia

          Not to say that her behavior was acceptable, btw, just to say that firing her could have easily turned her focus onto something else rather than the issue at hand. There is a chance for her to better herself from this experience, unlike a situation like Penn State.

  • Kelly NicDruegan

    While I appreciate and am happy for the family that there has been an apparent positive resolution to this incident, I can’t help but wonder… other than having to go to “touchy-feely” training I wonder what sort of repercussions the teacher is going to face? My bet is nothing.

    Regardless of whether she agreed with the student’s religion, there in no way any sane, reasonable person would think the teacher’s actions were anything other than inexcusable. This outcome, as positive as it may seem on the surface, will still fall short of what would have happened had a child of any mainstream faith been treated in a similar manner. But since it was a Pagan child and the teacher is being allowed to feign “ignorance” and “misunderstanding” as justification for her harassment and bullying it’s all good?

    • kenneth

      The nature of these deals is that we’ll probably never know what happened to the teacher, as it’s kept confidential as a “personnel matter.” My guess is that it probably resulted in nothing more than a written reprimand. The situation is somewhat difficult to judge because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a detailed account of exactly what the teacher did with regards to this kid. Whatever it was clearly wasn’t acceptable.

      Did it rise to the level where someone should lose their job over it? I don’t know. I’m not a big fan of putting teachers in constant fear of their livelihoods any time they screw up. Even the good ones are forever in someone’s crosshairs because they didn’t give an “A” to some kid who never turned in his work or didn’t magically produce the unrealistic jump in reading scores at some hopeless ghetto school. Most of the best teaching talent leaves the field within a few years these days because of the bullshit.

      If a teacher does something that amounts to a gross abuse of power or puts the student in real physical or psychological harm, firing is the way to go. In this situation, we don’t know, and my gut tells me the problem was something short of that. To my mind, the first priority has to be whether or not the kid and his family can live with the outcome and not whether it satisfies my personal outrage for all the times Christians have screwed us over in the past.

      • Chris Vermeers

        There’s a discussion of the events in this article.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      No, Kelly, it’s not all good. It’s partly good because our rights are being respected. It’s partly bad because we are still not being treated equally, for the very reason you cite: Had it been a Christian or Jew there’d’ve been an instant pink slip for Teacher.

      But it’s an important step, and deserves to be celebrated. The tone of your note suggests you know the kind of crap has been thrown at Pagan kids in the past with no consequences, so this is an improvement. Continued firmness on our part should lead to continued improvement.

  • Cindy Savage

    I went back and read the original issue about the boy being singled out during the teacher’s diatribe about the origins of the very pagan “Christmas” holiday. LOL.

    • http://www.facebook.com/isnorden Ingeborg Nordén

      You can say that again! Christians wouldn’t be celebrating Jesus’ birthday on a VERY unlikely date if it weren’t for Pope Gregory deciding that the best way to convert European pagans was to re-interpret their seasonal festivals. (Before then, some Church fathers actually said it was a sin to celebrate Jesus’ birth “as if he were a King Pharaoh”!) Christians these days have it backwards: the SEASON is the reason for the festival!

      • Thriceraven

        I’ve always been a fan of a bumper sticker I saw… (I think it was intended for atheists, but it works just as well for pagans…)

        ‘Axial tilt is the reason for the season.’

  • Latex Bill

    Well now that the school has been publicly forced to eat crow and smile, this family had best be very careful for the next few months.
    I lived through the 80’s panic, and I know how nasty people get about things like this. My heart tells me that this is far from over, and the community they live in may yet strike its own blow.
    Frankly, if it were me and mine in that situation, I’d already have packed up and left as soon as the apology was issued. Humans being what we are, a great many folks are mighty angry right now, and that poor boy is now a greater target than he knows….I only hope they all stay safe, and no one does anything stupid.

    • Charles Cosimano

      This is why the teacher should have been personally sued no matter what the district did. Destroying the teacher would have sent a powerful message to those who would try to be nasty–namely that the same thing would happen to them.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I am far from convinced of this. Christians love their martyrs, especially the kind of Christian who sees nothing wrong with what the teacher did. Rather than put the fear of the Goddess into them, “destroying the teacher” could turn the Church Somnolent into the Church Militant.

  • Kilmrnock

    This is why i think the teacher involved should be sumarily fired /terminated . A message needs to sent so teachers in this district and others know this type of behavior won’t be tolarated, ever. Kilm

    • kenneth

      They probably should be canned. The other side of that is that you usually can’t summarily terminate most public school teachers. They have unions and tenure and the only provisions for immediate exit are usually for truly horrible things like buggery of a student. They could press the matter in a lawsuit, but who’s going to front the tens of thousands of dollars to keep the attorneys paid until an eventual victory or settlement? For that matter, who’s going to escort the kid and watch their house 24/7 for the next several years when he becomes the target of every fundie hee-haw in that part of Georgia?

  • Lori F – MN

    Does anyone else think the teacher should have been suspended? At the very lease the boy should have a different teacher and different driver.

    • http://www.facebook.com/isnorden Ingeborg Nordén

      Speaking Spanish on the bus isn’t a basic right like religious freedom, although I admit that the driver acted unfairly when he singled out Christopher and not his other Latino friends. As for the teacher with her “anything non-biblical” and “paganism isn’t a real religion” remarks–heck yes, she should’ve been suspended for the way she treated Christopher! (Firing her would’ve gone too far, but the teacher deserved SOME kind of penalty for her behavior.) Besides, the tradition of celebrating Christmas is itself non-biblical; even if some details in Jesus’ birth story rule out a December birthday, Jesus never ordered people to celebrate the event at all.

  • LadySapphira69

    I see things like this happening in school systems more often every year. Two years ago I was living in Southern Alabama with a good friend of mine and her two kids. Both her and I are pagan. Since majority of the town is of the Christian/Catholic faith, you can imagine what kind of harrassment we dealt with on a regular basis. Not to mention the kids. Sad to say, my friends son had some problems with one of the students and got into a fight and was sent to the principles office when he was teased for being a “witch”. The kid is Autistic to top it all off!!! So as the principle was questioning him as to what was going on, he became so upset he started to assault the school staff and the principle. So of course he was then removed from school for a week. When things went on like this a few times over the course of a year, the school board tried to have him removed entirely and fail him. The child’s grandmother tried to use the religious differences in court by stating “The mother was unable to control the children”. The school board and the principle sided with the grandmother. The teachers/faculty AND the students bullied both children about their mother’s religion and started bullying them about being “witches”, etc. We tried to contact radio stations, newspapers… anything we could think of to get media attention to get her help she needed. I NEED to get the spotlight down there in GENEVA, ALABAMA so that the Pagan community can see how bad these people are treating this family. I am a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force… I served honorably and had no problems with the law until I went down there to help Mrs. Plotner try to get her custoudy back…. now her RELIGION has been called into question over the last 15 YEARS…. the KIDS ARE THE ONES SUFFERING THE MOST…. any ideas??? Look for her on FaceBook under Debbie King or Debbie Plotner…….. Thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dawn-Appelberg/100000226463817 Dawn Appelberg

    I understand this was the apology, however there was no misunderstanding and I see no retoribution agianst the teacher. I do see a bunch of political “we want this to go away.” Did the student get another teacher? Will he have to face the same bus driver? What steps were taken to ensure he is no longer bullied???

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1006464595 Cathryn Bauer

      I have the same questions. I would be very concerned and likely very defensive were I the parent in that situation.

      But it’s not so much retribution I want when it comes to that teacher; it’s re-education. She needs to understand that the Constitution and Bill of Rights trump the culture she’s apparently steeped in, one which says “My way, or I have complete permission to make your life hell any way I see fit.” This needs to be handled in a way which tells her she’s wrong but doesn’t give her reason to believe that she’s a martyr. I know, I know, what are the odds (sigh).

  • http://twitter.com/skullaria skullaria

    I don’t want the teacher fired. That’s a harsh sentence for anyone these days, but a written reprimand or 3 days suspension without pay would be something that would mark her personnel file so that if there are further incidents, replacing her would be made easier for administration. Should there be further incidents with other students, it would help in a lawsuit.
    She really may have just been ignorant. Ignorance and hate for anyone different is preached here in Georgia way too often. She might be a victim of it herself.