Parent says suspended student meant no harm

October 01, 2003


COLONIAL HEIGHTS - The parent of a Colonial Heights Middle School student who was suspended after defying a warning and encouraging another student to put a religious pamphlet on a biology teacher's desk says her daughter was only concerned for the teacher.

The incident stemmed from a discussion in biology class last week on the big bang theory of creation. Students were told the big bang is a scientific theory and they did not have to believe it.

CHMS principal Mike Cline said Monday that several students wanted to discuss Christian creation beliefs and asked the teacher her religious beliefs. The teacher refused to discuss her beliefs with the class, which is exactly what the school system advocates in that situation, Cline said.

Apparently rumors began circulating that the teacher was an atheist because she refused to discuss her beliefs in class, Cline said, and several students were punished for taking part in those rumors.

Cline said the suspended student, an eighth-grade girl, was initially chastised for being part of the "rumor mill" concerning the teacher and was among several students given in-school suspension for discussing the teacher's religious beliefs. A day or two after Cline warned the student, the principal said she encouraged another student to place a Christian pamphlet on the teacher's desk. The teacher found the pamphlet and reported it to school officials.

The student's mother, Sarah Qualls, said her child only heard about the rumor and did not participate in it. But while she was serving her in-school suspension, Qualls said her daughter became concerned for the teacher.

"My daughter felt like if the teacher did not believe in God, and there is no way to know that or not, but all my daughter thought was if that rumor had any truth to it whatsoever then she was doing her job by introducing God to this lady if the lady had never been introduced to God before. She was concerned for the teacher. She wasn't in any way trying to cause harassment,'' Qualls said. Qualls said her daughter is taught in church to witness to people she believes are in need. She said her daughter had never before discussed her own religious beliefs with the teacher and wanted her to read the pamphlet on her own time.

"We haven't told her she shouldn't have done it. We told her we were proud of her for doing what she thought she should do. She's been taught in her church that if you feel somebody needs to be witnessed to, to witness to that person and not to hold back.

"If the teacher had spoken up and said don't bother me with this, then it would be harassment. But she did not. She never once discussed this issue with my daughter or any of the other students. The only reason the kids knew the teacher was upset was the principal told them,'' Qualls said.

Qualls said her daughter asked another student to place the pamphlet on the teacher's desk because she was "scared the teacher would get mad." Linda Garrett, the mother of that student, said her son has been caught up in the situation unwillingly. He was suspended for being an accessory.

Garrett said her son told her that he was unaware of what the pamphlet was about. "He got caught right in the middle of it. ... He doesn't even know what an atheist is. He didn't realize the extent of what was going on. He did it to look cool. ... It wasn't right that he did it, but I don't think if he knew the extent to what he was doing, he wouldn't have. ... She had already been warned about it. My son hadn't," Garrett said.

Because of this and other incidents, Garrett said she is removing her son from the school. She believes her son was unfairly suspended for putting the material on the teacher's desk because he wasn't aware of the situation. Qualls said she would like the principal to remove the suspension from her daughter's record.

W"If my daughter had only done that to be mean, then I would be upset with her. But she has assured me that she did not do it to be mean. She was afraid the teacher would be mad, because of the rumor. She didn't want anyone to know that she was the one who laid it up there. ... She felt like it was her duty to get it to the teacher. ... Christians do what God wants them to do,'' Qualls said.

Copyright 2003 Kingsport Times-News.

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