A Texas school district apologized in a letter late Tuesday to its junior high school community after a 7th grade student voiced concerns that a classroom activity questioned the existence of God.
The Katy Independent School District (ISD) e-blasted an apology letter to West Memorial Junior High School parents, guardians and staff, although they disputed the purpose of the activity, calling it “intended as an exercise to encourage critical thinking skills and dialogue by engaging students in an exercise wherein they identified statements as fact, opinion, or common assertion and was not intended to question or challenge any student’s religious beliefs as reported by some media outlets.” The district asserted it was an ungraded class activity.
On Monday, a classroom assignment asked students to identify nine statements as opinion, factual claim, or commonplace assertion. One statement read: “There is a God.”
Jordan Wooley, 12, spoke out, telling Katy ISD boardmembers on Monday night meeting: “Today, I was given an assignment in school that questions my faith and told me that God was not real.” Wooley claimed the teacher said that anyone who put “fact or opinion” was wrong and that “God is only a myth.”
She added that her 8th period reading teacher insisted God’s existence “can’t be proven,” and noted that a classmate submitted her handout with God listed as a fact. “My teacher crossed the answer out several times, telling her it was completely wrong.”
Superintendent Alton Frailey called Wooley “brave” and thanked her for coming to the board meeting. “I am truly sorry you feel your faith was questioned, he noted, advising that West Memorial Junior High principal Gina Cobb was made aware of the incident and it would be “worked on that as per district policies and procedures.”
The Texas Education Code Chapter 25 provides students with one-minute of silence to reflect, pray, or meditate following the daily recitation of the pledges of allegiance to the United States and Texas flags. Students may also pray outside of instructional time, is voluntary, non-disruptive and student led, says the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). A school district and its employees may not sponsor prayer or show preference for one religion or non-religion.
On Tuesday, Wooley told Breitbart Texas she was “in disbelief” over the assignment. She said, “I don’t believe what happened was appropriate.” Nor did parent Stacey Skotak, whose daughter Lilly is also in the same reading class. She said, “This makes me furious and why I wanted to find out why this was even in a public school. There was no need for that question.”
Skotak expressed her frustration with attempts to reach the Language Arts teacher and school administrators after the incident. She told Breitbart Texas that Cobb spoke to the class on Tuesday. Breitbart Texas reached out to Katy ISD officials and School Board Vice President Henry Dibrell. None returned our calls or correspondences by press time.
In the letter, the school district acknowledged that assignment was teacher-developed and not curriculum-based, the teacher was reprimanded and the activity scrapped. Katy ISD assured its “school community that the religious beliefs of all students and staff are welcomed and valued at West Memorial Junior High.”
The letter read:
Yesterday, October 26, at the end of the school day, two West Memorial Junior High parents contacted the school’s principal to share their concern over a classroom activity that they felt questioned students’ religious beliefs. The school principal immediately responded to the parents by informing them that she would investigate and meet with the teacher the following morning. At the conclusion of the investigation today, the principal determined that the classroom activity included an item that was unnecessary for achieving the instructional standard. The activity, which was intended to encourage critical thinking skills and dialogue by engaging students in an exercise wherein they identified statements as fact, opinion, or common assertion was not intended to question or challenge any student’s religious beliefs as reported by some media outlets.
The teacher is distraught by this incident, as some commentary has gone as far as to vilify her without knowing her, her Christian faith, or the context of the classroom activity. Still, this does not excuse the fact that this ungraded activity was ill-conceived and because of that, its intent had been misconstrued. As a result, the activity will no longer be used by the school, and the teacher has been advised and reprimanded. The school regrets any misconceptions that may have resulted from this teacher-developed classroom activity and assures its school community that the religious beliefs of all students and staff are welcomed and valued at West Memorial Junior High.
Katy ISD pointed out to families and staff of media interest in the story addressing “should media be on campus tomorrow during arrival or dismissal, rest assured there will be additional patrols on site to aide with traffic control and ensure the safety and security of students and staff.”
Media first learned of the incident after Chantal Wooley videotaped her daughter discussing the class exercise and posted the footage to Facebook on Monday.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutofTheBoxMom.