Teacher Resigns in Creationism Controversy

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 23, 2008 - 09:53:00 AM

A Jefferson Elementary School third-grade teacher has resigned following allegations that she might have violated the separation of church and state by teaching creationism to her third-grade class, district officials said Friday. 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett confirmed that Jefferson teacher Gwen Martin—who joined the school over summer and has been on personal leave since the last week of September—resigned but declined to comment on the outcome of the investigation regarding her alleged conduct in class, explaining that it was a personnel matter. 

“She [Martin] resigned a little bit ago,” he said. “I can’t comment on that [investigation].” 

Parents of children who attend Jefferson Elementary School told the Planet that Martin was discussing the differences between fiction and non-fiction with her students on Aug. 29 when she told them that the only thing they should believe in was God. 

They said that Martin had also told the students that she didn’t believe in evolution or the Big Bang theory either. 

A group of parents at Jefferson, worried that the teacher’s alleged actions violated their civil liberties, complained to Jefferson’s new principal, Maggie Riddle, and the issue ultimately reached the Berkeley Board of Education and the superinten-dent. 

Messages left at Jefferson Friday for Riddle and Martin by the Planet were not returned by deadline. 

The Planet reported earlier this month that school board President John Selawsky had confirmed that the district was investigating the allegations against Martin, and that if they turned out to be true, the district would likely seek some form of discipline against her. 

When reached Friday, Selawsky also refused comment on the outcome of the investigation, citing personnel issues. 

“The teacher has resigned and we have posted the position,” he said. “I don’t have any other comment. It has yet to come to the board for final approval but the superintendent has accepted her resignation.” 

Selawsky added that a substitute teacher had been assigned to fill Martin’s position until a replacement could be found for her. 

The courts have ruled that public schools may not sponsor religious worship, but they may teach about religion as an academic subject without teaching dogma.