by JewsOnFirst.org, November 28, 2006
A public high school teacher lectures his history class that they will go to hell if they don't accept Jesus. A student gives a recording of the lectures to school administrators -- who defend the teacher. The community turns against the student. This is not happening in Missouri or Oklahoma, but in Hudson County, New Jersey, a quick commute from Manhattan.
"This is just like a nightmare," the student's father, Paul LaClair told JewsOnFirst. in a telephone interview this weekend. He said that the Kearny School District has refused the family's request that school officials correct the statements he made to the class disparaging evolution and the Big Bang and favoring creationism.
During lectures in September teacher David Paszkiewicz, who, according to local news reports, also works as a Baptist youth pastor at a local church, told students that evolution is not scientific and claimed that there were dinosaurs on Noah's ark.
He also told them that if they did not accept Jesus, they belong in hell.
"I'm upset at him as a public school teacher, pushing it on students. They're too young," said Matthew LaClair, a 16-year-old junior at Kearny High School.
The Kearny School District serves the town of Kearny, population 40,000.
School district slow to act
Matthew LaClair recorded Paszkiewicz's proselytizing, because he was concerned that school officials would not believe an undocumented complaint about the teacher's statements. And indeed, that turned out to be true.
According to the Jersey Journal, when Matthew LaClair met last month with the school principal, Paszkiewicz and the head of the social studies department, Paszkiewicz denied proselytizing and his bosses believed him -- until LaClair presented them with CDs he'd made of the lectures.
Principal Al Somma kept LaClair waiting two weeks for the meeting. Now, more than a month has passed and, according to Paul LaClair, no one in the district has listened to the recordings except for the board's attorney. "He told them not to listen," said LaClair, himself a lawyer, who termed the advice, "an incompetent job of lawyering."
Paul LaClair told JewsOnFirst that the school board has so far refused to put the matter on its agenda. He said the family addressed the board during the public comment time, although their time was limited.
Matthew LaClair said he reproached the school superintendent, Robert Mooney, saying "I thought when I gave this information to you, it would be handled by an adult, I guess I was wrong."
It was not until mid-November, when the Jersey Journal reported the story and it began to circulate around the blogosphere that Mooney moved to address the situation. He first told the Journal that he would take "corrective action." A day later Mooney told the paper he had taken corrective action, but he would not say what action he had taken.
Mooney did not respond to JewsOnFirst's request for comment. But, according to the LaClairs, no action has been taken to correct Paszkiewicz's "incorrect and inappropriate statements," which is their main concern.
Superintendent: "A wonderful teacher"
Paszkiewicz was reportedly still teaching. And Mooney called him a "wonderful teacher." He told the newspaper he believed that Paszkiewicz "was trying to have a high-level discussion with his students." The superintendent continued: "Right now he has to be very careful. But I also don't want ... him to throttle down the level of discussion based on this issue."
As transcribed by the Journal, Paszkiewicz told the class that
[Jesus] did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sin on his own body, suffered your pains for you and he's saying, "Please accept me, believe me."
If you reject that, you belong in hell. The outcome is your prerogative. But the way I see it, God himself sent his only son to die for David Paszkiewicz on that cross ... And if you reject that, then it really is to hell with you.
Paul LaClair told JewsOnFirst that when one of the students asked about a popular girl who's Muslim, Paszkiewicz said she'll go to hell.
Former students of Paszkiewicz have started to come forward to say that he also preached to their classes, Paul LaClair said. "He uses the first week of class, before the books are handed out, to preach."
The citizens of Kearny are not lauding Matthew LaClair for revealing Paszkiewicz's proselytizing. "Response in this town has been terrible," he told JewsOnFirst. "A decent majority of the town is angry at me." He termed the public anger "upsetting" and said he has had a few threats.
When the Jersey Journal went to interview LaClair outside the high school, its reporter witnessed students taunting Matthew and glaring at him.
Matthew LaClair told JewsOnFirst that people in Kearny are "trying to defend Paszkiewicz, but there's nothing to defend." He added that it was encouraging to hear from supportive out-of-town people.
Asked how he will get through the year and a half before he graduates, he replied: "by sticking with the true friends that I have at school."
If he had it to do over again, would he? "Oh definitely," he responded. "In a heartbeat."
Paul LaClair said he has contacted counsel for possible action against the school district.