December 18, 2008
Sixth-Grader Penalized For Mentioning Jesus in His Christmas Paper at School
Hattiesburg, MS – Eleven-year-old Andrew White wrote a poem about Christmas but received a deduction for writing about Jesus. His teacher, Latasha Atkins, insisted that mentioning Jesus was not allowed and asked him to write a new poem.
Andrew and his classmates were assigned a creative expression paper for the Winter Writer’s Board as part of his sixth-grade language class at Thames Elementary School in the Hattiesburg Public School District. He could choose among three topics, and he chose to write a poem about “what Christmas means to me.” After turning in his rough draft, Atkins circled the word “Jesus” and deducted one point from his grade. The teacher explained to Andrew that he was not allowed to mention Jesus at school and would need to rewrite the poem for his final draft without using the word “Jesus.” He attempted to rewrite the paper according to the teacher’s instructions.
Andrew’s parents discovered what happened because Andrew was late turning in the final draft and was notified by the teacher. Atkins sent an email to Andrew’s mother explaining the situation. In her email, she specifically stated: “He and another child did a poem about Christ. I know we can't discuss these type [sic] of things in school so I asked the two of them to do another poem of their choice.” Andrew’s parents encouraged him to use his original poem as his final draft.
Andrew’s poem, “A Great Christmas,” reads: “The best Christmas ever is when everyone is there. It is when everyone is laughing here and there. That is the Christmas I want to share. Christmas is about Jesus’ birth. About peace on Earth. This is what Christmas is about. It is when He lay in a manger. And the three wise men come to see. That’s what it means to me.”
Principal Carrie Hornsby sided with Andrew and his parents, changing his grade to a 100 and conceding that there was nothing improper in using Jesus’ name. Hornsby had each teacher send out a letter for all the parents to read regarding religious expression at school. The letter clearly explains that religious expression is permitted under federal guidelines. However, despite promises that these papers would be posted on the Winter Writer’s Board for all to see, Atkins has refused to post any of the papers from the class.
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law commented: “Some educators need education that the story of Christmas is not banned from public schools. I am relieved that the situation was resolved by the principal but horrified that a sixth-grader was told by his teacher, ‘we can’t discuss these types of things in school.’ I don’t understand why some people don’t get it. Christmas is a state and federal holiday. Schools are closed to celebrate this holiday. Obviously, Christmas is constitutional.”
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