Friday, September 16, 2011

Idaho School Shut Down Over 'Religious Texts'

To school teacher Isaac Moffett, the Bible is not just a religious document. “It’s so much more,” he said. "It’s a primary source of history. It’s a primary teaching source of actually people who lived during the time period.”

Moffett is making his case as he walks across a dirt field in Nampa, Idaho. “This used to be our campus,” he said. “This is where the classrooms were. Everything was right here.”

That was last year. This year it’s all gone, and all because Moffett and his fellow teachers used the Bible and other “religious texts” in their classrooms.

It’s a shocking set of circumstances that has one of the most conservative states in the country defending one of the most liberal views of the Constitutional separation between church and state.

At issue is the Nampa Classical Academy, a charter school, founded by Moffett in 2009. One year later, Idaho’s Board of Education shut the school down, citing its use of “religious texts” inside classrooms. Moffett says he only used the texts to teach history and is now suing the Board in federal court.

His lawyer calls it a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution. “I suspect the Supreme Court is going to eventually write the final book of this case,” David Cortman predicted as he too walked across the abandoned field that was once Nampa Classical.

Cortman is from The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group that defends Christian causes. “The Supreme Court of the United States has held for decades now,” he explained, “that it is Constitutionally permissible to objectively teach the Bible in public schools for history or comparative literature.”

And he says that is exactly what Moffett and fellow teachers were doing in Nampa. “This was not a religious school,” he said

No one from the Idaho Board of Education would comment citing the pending litigation. But in a 2009 memorandum, Idaho’s Attorney General’s office explained the state’s position: “...Use of any religious texts within Idaho's classrooms, would likely violate the Idaho State Constitution," it said.

Surprisingly Idaho’s Constitution has one of the most liberal views about Church/state separation. For instance, Title IX reads, "No Sectarian or religious tenants or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools."

Cortman said that line was written to prohibit Idaho’s religious groups from spreading their particular doctrines within public schools and not to banish the Bible altogether. “This is a misrepresentation,” he said. In any case, he adds the Federal Constitution always trumps state constitutions. “We feel we are on very firm ground on this one,” he said


British schools go back to basics with return of phonics tests for six-year-olds

Long overdue

Every six-year-old will be tested on their ability to read words such as ‘cat’, ‘zoo’ and ‘pride’ as part of a return to traditional teaching. Schools minister Nick Gibb will today announce that every six year old will be screened with a 10-minute test during one week of June from 2012.

The tests will be based on phonics – where pupils learn the sounds of letters and groups of letters before putting them together. It is a move away from the ‘trendy’ teaching methods which have been blamed on the decline of youngsters’ grasp of the 3Rs.

Around one in six seven-year-olds and one in five 11-year-olds fail to reach the levels expected of their age group in reading, according to official statistics.

Ministers hope the test will enable teachers to pinpoint any child struggling with reading at an early stage – so they can be given extra help.

The announcement follows the successful completion of a pilot scheme in 300 schools this summer. A report, published today, shows almost half of teachers, 43 per cent, discovered pupils with reading problems of which they were not previously aware.

It is therefore hoped that the national tests will flag up the needs of thousands of struggling youngsters each year.

Mr Gibb, said: ‘There is no doubt we need to raise standards of reading. Only last month we learnt that one in 10 boys aged 11 can read no better than a seven-year-old. ‘The new check is based on a method that is internationally proven to get results and the evidence from the pilot is clear – thousands of six-year-olds, who would otherwise slip through the net.’

At present, pupils in England are assessed in Year 2 by their teachers in English, maths and science.

Phonics focuses on sounds rather than, for example, having children try to recognise whole words. In analytic phonics, words are broken down into their beginning and end parts, such as ‘str-’ and ‘eet’, with an emphasis on ‘seeing’ the words and analogy with other words.

In synthetic phonics, children start by sequencing the individual sounds in words – for example, ‘s-t-r-ee-t’, with an emphasis on blending them together. Once they have learned all these, they progress to reading books.

Mr Gove has said he believes that it is impossible for schools to drill pupils to pass the new test. Some teachers are unconvinced by the move, believing reading is best taught using a mixture of methods.


Assistant head who 'shoved' 15-year-old pupil who swore at him is cleared of assault

An assistant head teacher, who was accused of assaulting a 15-year-old pupil, has been cleared. William Stuart, 47, was today found not guilty of assaulting the girl at Graham School in Scarborough following a two-day trial.

After the verdict was read out the court erupted into cheers largely from dozens of Mr Stuart's supporters from the local community. The teacher's wife, Sarah, who had been anxiously sitting in court, burst into tears at the news.

Mr Stuart, who has 23 years of unblemished experience, was charged after the girl, who cannot be named, claimed the science teacher shoved her to the ground and against some coat pegs.

It was alleged that Mr Stuart had become angry and 'out of control' after the pupil ignored his instructions to stay behind when food was smeared on the wall of the school canteen.

But chairman of the bench Paul Osborne said the girl's evidence was inconsistent and did not tally with that of two other pupils who gave evidence for the prosecution.

Ian Glen QC, defending, had earlier told the court 19 incidents were detailed in the school’s bad behaviour log from September 2009 to July 2011 about the girl’s poor attitude in class and on school grounds. The court also heard the girl has already been excluded this term after assaulting another pupil.

Mr Osborne said her terrible school record did nothing for her credibility, especially as she tried to tell the court she was a good pupil.

He said: 'Mr Stuart's evidence was credible and convincing. 'He has a 23-year unblemished teaching record across several schools.'

Speaking after the hearing, Anne Swift, from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said the strain of the case has had an 'enormous impact' on Mr Stuart's family. She said teachers accused in this way should be granted anonymity until they are convicted by a court. Mrs Swift said: 'He (Mr Stuart) was made to feel a criminal before anything was found.

'It's too easy for youngsters and their families to make false accusations. There should be consequences for those who make false allegations.'

Mrs Swift said both his children went to the school where he teaches and, because of the accusation, he was not able to see his daughter's final concert before she left. Asked how she would describe Mr Stuart, she said: 'An excellent teacher. A man of a good character. A pillar of the community.'

Mrs Swift said she also believed a matter like this should never have involved the police at all and should have been dealt with internally.

Asked whether Mr Stuart would return to his job, she said: 'It would be a great loss to his profession to have an experienced teacher decide they can't face it any more.'


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