After Matthew LaClair, a student at Kearny (N.J.) High School, reported his teacher for preaching religion in his history class, the student received death threats and the community overwhelmingly took the teacher’s side.
KEARNY, N.J. â 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 Noahâs 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.
âIf you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,â? Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. âHe 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 heâs saying, âPlease, accept me, believe.â If you reject that, you belong in hell.â?
The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewiczâs 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 Matthewâs complaint, administrators have said they have taken âcorrective actionâ? 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.
âI think heâs an excellent teacher,â? said the school principal, Al Somma. âAs far as I know, there have never been any problems in the past.â?
Staci Snider, the president of the local teacherâs 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. Paszkiewiczâs class and is a member of his
youth group, said in a letter to The Observer, the local weekly
newspaper, that Matthew was âignoring the First Amendment to the United
States Constitution, which gives every citizen the freedom of
religion.â? Some anonymous posters on the townâs electronic bulletin
board, Kearnyontheweb.com, called for Matthewâs suspension.
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