KEARNY, N.J. — Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.
Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.
“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”
The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments.
Since Matthew’s complaint, administrators have said they have taken “corrective action” against Mr. Paszkiewicz, 38, who has taught in the district for 14 years and is also a youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church. However, they declined to say what the action was, saying it was a personnel matter.
“I think he’s an excellent teacher,” said the school principal, Al Somma. “As far as I know, there have never been any problems in the past.”
Staci Snider, the president of the local teacher’s union, said Mr. Paszkiewicz (pronounced pass-KEV-ich) had been assigned a lawyer from the union, the New Jersey Education Association. Two calls to Mr. Paszkiewicz at school and one to his home were not returned.
In this tale of the teacher who preached in class and the pupil he offended, students and the larger community have mostly lined up with Mr. Paszkiewicz, not with Matthew, who has received a death threat handled by the police, as well as critical comments from classmates.
Greice Coelho, who took Mr. Paszkiewicz’s class and is a member of his youth group, said in a letter to The Observer, the local weekly newspaper, that Matthew was “ignoring the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives every citizen the freedom of religion.” Some anonymous posters on the town’s electronic bulletin board, Kearnyontheweb.com, called for Matthew’s suspension.
On the sidewalks outside the high school, which has 1,750 students, many agreed with 15-year-old Kyle Durkin, who said, “I’m on the teacher’s side all the way.”
While science teachers, particularly in the Bible Belt, have been known to refuse to teach evolution, the controversy here, 10 miles west of Manhattan, hinges on assertions Mr. Paszkiewicz made in class, including how a specific Muslim girl would go to hell.
“This is extremely rare for a teacher to get this blatantly evangelical,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit educational association. “He’s really out there proselytizing, trying to convert students to his faith, and I think that that’s more than just saying I have some academic freedom right to talk about the Bible’s view of creation as well as evolution.”
Even some legal organizations that often champion the expression of religious beliefs are hesitant to support Mr. Paszkiewicz. . . .
What a teachable moment! Wonder how many schools will take advantage of it. Here's some text for discussion:
NEA Code of Ethics:
In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator--
- Shall not unreasonably restrain the student from independent action in the pursuit of learning.
- Shall not unreasonably deny the student's access to varying points of view.
- Shall not deliberately suppress or distort subject matter relevant to the student's progress.
- Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.
- Shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement.
- Shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background, or sexual orientation, unfairly--
a. Exclude any student from participation in any program
b. Deny benefits to any student
c. Grant any advantage to any student
First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.