The Taunton Gazette reports today:
A meeting between Taunton School Superintendent Julie Hackett and the family of a boy who drew a picture of Jesus that has caused a national uproar did not materialize Wednesday.
“They did not show, they gave no indication that they were canceling the meeting, and we have not yet rescheduled,” said Hackett, responding to questions e-mailed to her.
Later Wednesday, a civil liberties organization representing the family released a statement, calling the incident in which 8-year-old Maxham Elementary School second-grader Jalen Cromwell’s drawing was deemed inappropriate an “overreaction by school officials.”
The boy’s father, Chester Johnson, stayed inside his Oak Street apartment Wednesday, deferring all media inquiries to a spokesperson at the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit international civil liberties legal group based in Charlottesville, Va. The group specializes in defending constitutional and religious rights.
In a news release, Rutherford’s President, John Whitehead, asserted the student “was allegedly forced by school officials to undergo psychological evaluations. ... The psychological damage to this family is appalling."
According to the Rutherford Institute's statement:
In a letter to the superintendent of the Taunton Public Schools, Institute attorneys pointed out that the effective suspension of Jalen from school deprived him and his parents of their constitutional rights to due process and punished Jalen for engaging in expressive activity protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In light of the fact that this incident has made Jalen's continued attendance at Maxham School untenable, Institute attorneys have also requested that the school arrange for Jalen to be transferred to an out-of-district school and for his parents to be compensated for the associated transportation costs.
Notice, no "war on Christmas" rhetoric there, or elsewhere in the Institute's press release. So this Kevin Cullen column in the Boston Globe completely misses the point. Although the religious aspect of the controversy is unavoidable, the First Amendment implications are secondary (perhaps that's why it's mentioned second in the paragraph above). The problem is how school officials reacted -- or overreacted.