Buddhist student wins suit

NEW ORLEANS - A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit sparked by the treatment of a Buddhist student of Thai descent whose parents say he was harassed at a Louisiana school that aggressively pushed Christian beliefs.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleged, among other things, that a teacher at Negreet High School in Sabine Parish declared that Buddhism was stupid.

It also said the school regularly incorporated Christian prayer into classes and school events and scrolled Bible verses on an electronic marquee in front of the school.

The agreement filed on Friday in US District Court contains a long list of prohibited practices. For instance, it says school officials won't discourage or encourage religious activities; they won't assign readings from religious texts, absent a non-religious educational purpose; and they won't express their personal religious beliefs in class or at school events.

"No child should feel that a teacher is trying to impose religious beliefs, and this agreement ensures that this will no longer be the case at Sabine Parish schools," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana.

"We're glad the school board worked with us to bring this matter to a quick and amicable resolution."

The lawsuit was filed against the Sabine Parish School Board on behalf of Scott and Sharon Lane and their three children.

According to the complaint from the ACLU, the Lanes' son, a lifelong Buddhist, quickly became the target of harassment at Negreet.

Among the defendants in the suit was science teacher Rita Roark, who taught students that "the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is 'impossible' and that the Bible is '100 percent true.' "

A test she gave included religious references that included this fill-in-the-blank entry: "Isn't it amazing what the .... has made!"

When the Lanes' son "did not write in Roark's expected answer (Lord), she belittled him in front of the rest of the class", the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said Negreet officials refused to stop the practices when the Lanes complained, but allowed the boy to attend another school nearby.

The agreement includes an award of $4,000 to Sharon Lane to cover her past costs of transporting the boy to his new school. The board also will pay future transport costs.

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