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The Journal Gazette

June 25, 2015 1:03 AM

Religion focus of suit vs. teacher

Claims 2nd-grader segregated for beliefs

Rebecca S. Green | The Journal Gazette

An unidentified second-grader and his mother sued a Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher for violating his constitutional rights in February in a confrontation over religion.

According to the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, the child, identified as A.B., and his mother, identified only as V.S., sued Michelle Meyer, a second-grade teacher at Forest Park Elementary School.

She is sued in her individual capacity because she is accused of committing the action, not the school district, said Kenneth Falk, with the ACLU of Indiana, which filed the lawsuit. The district is not named in the lawsuit. 

According to court documents, A.B. and his classmates were playing before lunch on the school’s playground Feb. 23. One of his classmates asked him if he went to church.

The boy told her he did not go to church and that he did not believe in God. According to court documents, this upset her, and she told him he hurt her feelings.

The playground supervisor reported it to Meyer, who asked A.B. about it before he went to lunch.

“Meyer asked A.B. if he told the girl that he did not believe in God, and A.B. said he had and asked what he had done wrong,” Falk wrote.

She then asked A.B. about his religious practices, where he went to church and whether his mother knew how he felt about God, according to court documents. 

“She also asked A.B. if he believed that maybe God exists,” Falk wrote. “(She) told A.B. she was very concerned about what he had done and that she was going to contact his mother – although she never did.”

The day of the incident and for two days afterward, Meyer made A.B. sit by himself during lunch and told him not to talk to other students because he offended them, according to court documents.

“This served to reinforce A.B.’s feeling that he committed some transgression that justified his exclusion,” according to court documents.

The boy’s mother called the school, and the assistant principal set up a three-way phone conversation between himself, V.S. and Meyer. V.S. demanded the school not isolate her son or punish him for what he believed, according to court documents.

And he was allowed to rejoin his friends for lunch, according to court documents.

“After this three-day period, and after (his mother) complained, A.B. was told by (Meyer) and other teachers that he could believe what he wants,” Falk wrote. “But this was after (he) had been publicly separated from his classmates and informed he could not speak to them. All the students in his class heard and were aware of this. He was publicly shamed and made to feel that his personal beliefs were terribly wrong.”

According to court documents, the boy is now anxious and fearful about school, believing many teachers and students hate him and some classmates will not talk to him.

A.B and his mother are asking for unspecified damages and costs. 

Attempts to reach Meyer for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.  

Fort Wayne Community Schools officials confirmed she is a teacher at Forest Park Elementary. 

rgreen@jg.net