Kearny, New JerseySome local press from this story is expected this week; the blogosphere may generate more attention.
November 10, 2006
A history teacher at the local public high school here may have bitten off more than he cares to chew this fall. Self-described conservative Baptist David Paszkiewicz used his history class to proselytize biblical fundamentalism over the course of several days at the beginning of this school year.
Among his remarks in open class were statements that a being must have created the universe, that the Christian Bible is the word of God, and that dinosaurs were aboard Noah's ark. If you do not accept Jesus, he flatly proclaimed to his class, "you belong in hell." Referring to a Muslim student who had been mentioned by name, he lamented what he saw as her inevitable fate should she not convert. In an attempt to promote biblical creationism, he also dismissed evolution and the Big Bang as non-scientific, arguing by contrast that the Bible is supported by what he calls confirmed biblical prophecies.
After taking the matter to the school administration, one of Paszkiewicz's students, junior Matthew LaClair, requested a meeting with the teacher and the school principal. LaClair, a non-Christian, was requesting an apology and correction of false and anti-scientific statements. After two weeks, a meeting took place in the principal's office, wherein Paszkiewicz denied making many of these comments, claiming that LaClair had taken his remarks out of context. Paszkiewicz specifically denied using the phrase, "you belong in hell." He also asserted that he did nothing different in this class than he has been doing in fifteen years of teaching.
At the end of the meeting, LaClair revealed that he had recorded the remarks, and presented the principal with two compact discs. The teacher then declined to comment further without his union representative. However, he fired one last shot at the student, saying, "You got the big fish ... you got the big Christian guy who is a teacher...!"
Commenting on the situation, LaClair's father, attorney Paul LaClair said, "In a few short weeks, this teacher has displayed bigotry, hypocrisy, arrogance and an appalling ignorance of science. The school's administrators seem not to appreciate the damage this man is doing to young minds. He has some real abilities as a teacher, but this conduct is the intellectual equivalent of the school cafeteria serving sawdust."
The student and his parents have requested that the teacher's anti-scientific remarks be corrected in open class, and that the school develop quality control procedures to ensure that future classes are not proselytized and misinformed. They have also referred the matter for disciplinary action. No apology has been forthcoming from the teacher or from the school. The parents state that because of the administration's inaction, they have taken the matter to the school board this week, from whom they are awaiting a response.
(This came to my attention from a post on the SKEPTIC list by Paul Harrison--thanks, Paul.)
UPDATE (November 15, 2006): This story has now been reported in the Newark Star-Ledger.
UPDATE: The Jersey Journal has picked up the story and put some of the audio online. The story is also being picked up by NYC-area radio and television--the LaClairs have been interviewed by or have scheduled interviews with WCBS radio, 1010 WINS radio, Fox 5 News, and NBC 4 News.
UPDATE (November 22, 2006): The Observer (the weekly newspaper for Kearny, NJ) has published some quotes from the recordings and a few letters to the editor.