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[Blogs] Inspirational letter from Alabama State Director

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Inspirational letter from Alabama State Director One letter makes a difference!!From the Office of Blair ScottAlabama State Director, American Atheists, Inc.PO Box 1352, Madison, AL 35758-9998bscott@atheists.orghttp://www.atheists.org/al/ March 12, 2007 Report on discrimination of atheist child at Riverton Middle School, Huntsville, Alabama. My daughter had been informing me of small incidents at the school regarding religious infringement, especially concerning a group called ?First Priority? (www.fpoa.org) First Priority was handing out fliers to students and at one point a nurse on the school?s staff confronted my daughter in the hallway before class wanting to know why she was not in the library (where FP is held before school starts). In addition, she told me that some of the kids were giving her a hard time about her atheism. She said most of it was curiosity, but that some of it was clearly taunting. Most of this we brushed off as innocent childhood bantering. On February 23rd, my daughter returned from school visibly upset. She told me that the teasing and taunting was getting worse and that it was now occurring in the classroom in addition to the hallways. She relayed two disturbing incidents. In one of the classrooms, with the teacher present, five students began harassing my daughter about her atheism and telling her she was going to Hell. The teacher made no effort to stop the harassment and later advised the principal that she had no idea it was going on. The second incident involved multiple students that surrounded my daughter and refused to let her go. They began singing ?Jesus loves you? to her and telling her she was going to Hell and badgering her about not believing in god. Encircling my daughter was clearly an aggressive and threatening move. The kids were now singing ?Jesus love you? every time they saw her in the hallway. My daughter had tried to tackle the problem on her own, but she now realized it was getting out of hand and she told me everything. I sat down that night and wrote a letter to the principal, assistant principal, student counselors, and Madison County School Board, but did not send it out. My daughter told me the next day that she had talked to one of the counselors and that the counselor told her she had every right to believe or not believe in whatever she wanted and that the students were wrong. The counselor told my daughter that she would talk to any student that my daughter identified. I called the counselor and talked to her on the phone for about 30 minutes. After the phone call, I decided to remove the Madison County School Board from my letter and give the school a chance to solve the problem on its own. My conversation with the student counselor went very well and she reassured me that such behavior would not be tolerated. I sent the email on February 27th at 1700 (see Enclosure 1). I received an immediate email from Mrs. Stone, the student counselor that my daughter had been talking to. Mrs. Stone again reassured me that the necessary steps were being taken. On February 28th at 0750 I received an email from Mr. Medlen, the school?s principal. Mr. Medlen advised, ?This type of behavior will not be tolerated at Riverton Middle School. [?] Please be assured that this matter will be handled today.? Later that afternoon I received an email from Mrs. Watts, the assistant principal, who stated, ??everyone is entitled to their own belief(s). I strongly believe in separation of church (belief) and state. I believe that it is the responsibility of the home to teach beliefs and values. Unfortunately, these incidents reveal that not every home teaches values.? Toward the end of the day I received an additional email from Mr. Medlen who stated, ?I have seen every student that I found to be involved in this matter and handled it as a disciplinary referral.? My daughter continued to report incidents to the student counselor until every student involved had been verbally disciplined once and lectured on the values of religious freedom and harassment. On March 8th my daughter was accosted again in the hallway by students that had already been warned. They were immediately brought to the principal?s office where they were suspended for five days. There was another incident today on March 12th in the lunchroom where a student tried to get other students to sing ?Jesus loves you? to my daughter, but the other students were clearly uncomfortable. He was asking other students if they were ?Christian or Catholic.? This student was brought to the principal?s office, but we are not aware of any disciplinary action yet. >From the moment I moved to Huntsville, I knew that it was not like the rest of Alabama. Huntsville is a diverse city with a multitude of nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and other dynamics. The actions of the school reaffirmed my impression of Huntsville and were a great credit upon the principal and the Madison County School system. Huntsville is home to the largest atheist group in Alabama with 80 members and it continues to grow. The two times the local atheist group, an affiliate of American Atheists, has screened movies at the local Arts Center they have drawn the biggest crowds the Arts Center has ever seen. The lessons learned here are plentiful. The first lesson I learned is that our children, being independent thinkers, will try to deal with and solve problems like these on their own before coming to us. I have sat down with my daughters and expressed my pride in their courage, but I also encouraged them to come to me for help on any matter, regardless of how small it may seem, so they do not have to tackle issues like these on their own. The second lesson learned is that writing a simple letter can sometimes accomplish a lot. The third lesson leaned is that even in the heart of the Bible Belt we can sometimes find friends in places we least expect to find them, such as in the administrative office of a local school. The fourth lesson learned is that it is sometimes better to take complaints up the ?chain of command? and to give the lower levels a chance to solve the problem on their own. The less bureaucracy involved the better. In reason,Blair ScottAlabama State Director, American Atheists http://www.atheists...._alabama_state_


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