In Each Issue

Legally Speaking Q & A

The answers or opinions expressed in this article are not intended to render legal advice. The factual and legal issues in each circumstance must be considered and may require the advice of an attorney.

Q: I am a Christian biology teacher, which puts me in a precarious situation regarding teaching evolution. I make it clear that I don't believe in the parts that have no scientific basis (such as macroevolution), and I do my best to examine evolution and non-evolution in terms of the actual science backing. Last year I had an after-school “Biology Party.” I offered material for further exploration into other views of how life began, and I answered student's questions on the aspect of creation and science. What guidance can you give me on my rights as a teacher to do this? 

A: First, you must teach the board adopted curriculum, which of course includes the theory of evolution. 

Having said that, since evolution is a theory, there would be nothing wrong with studying and comparing it with other theories. You can use your academic freedom to bring in outside resources that go beyond the curriculum. For instance, much of the science under the heading of intelligent design does not conflict with biblical truth. And, intelligent design has not been ruled out by the courts. 

Now, just because teaching multiple origin theories is legal, you do not necessarily have unfettered rights to do so. For example, creationism has been classified as religious teaching by the courts since the foundation of the theory is Scripture. Since you have not been hired to teach religion, teaching creationism as science could cross the line. If you have classroom discussions on origins, it would be better if Christian students bring up Scriptures while you simply ask the questions and let the students drive the discussion. 

I encourage you not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. We have seen some teachers push too hard, resulting in complaints that caused them to lose their academic freedoms.

 

Q: I read about CEAI’s Job Action Protection benefit. Is the attorney provided free of charge if I have an incident that requires legal representation?
A: CEAI's Job Action Protection benefit for insured members includes unlimited consultation with CEAI’s Director of Legal Services at no cost. If you need local legal representation, our Job Protection Benefit will pay up to $1,000 for a consultation with an attorney as well as up to $1,500 for an attorney’s services resulting from a request for a formal hearing. You can view details about CEAI's Job Action Protection benefit and Professional Liability Insurance coverage at ftj.com/ceai.

Q: I received a forwarded email in which our school superintendent is "encouraging" an all-school walkout in support of a political position. I do not want to participate because 1) I don't believe in the political position being promoted and 2) I don't believe that I should be forced to use my position as a teacher to support a political agenda. I have considered letting my principal know that I am willing to supervise any students who choose not to walk out or quietly go to my office space during the walkout. But I am not sure if this is wise. How can I approach this without causing offense and without risk of retribution?  

A: Clearly, you could refuse to walk out in support of a political position and simply stay in your classroom or office. However, you could face the challenge of not being able to supervise your students during the time they are expected to walk out. And, you could be seen as insubordinate.

I recommend meeting with your principal. You could explain your dilemma and see if the two of you can come up with a way for you to avoid violating your conscience while still fulfilling your district responsibility during the walkout. In this respectful time of brainstorming, maybe you could suggest your idea of supervising any students who choose not to walk out. 

No matter which option you choose, I suggest you pray for guidance before you act. We at CEAI will pray for you too.


 

Q: I have been put on an improvement plan. What are the best ways to let my administration know that I have complied? 
A: I suggest you submit your improvement plan to CEAI for review. We can advise you if it is appropriate and achievable. Your evaluators may not witness all of your efforts to comply, so I also suggest you keep a detailed log of your compliance (including dates). This way, you have a data-driven rebuttal in case someone claims you have not followed through on your responsibilities. 

Submit: To submit questions regarding school law issues relating to religious freedoms to experienced attorneys, visit Ask an Attorney on our website.  For all other legal inquiries email service@ceai.org. To submit questions regarding educational issues to our experienced educators, visit Ask an Educator on our website.

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