GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — Dividing students in the classroom and teaching them from books that adhere to their religious beliefs would be difficult, a teacher testified Friday in a trial over the contents of school texts.
"I'm not sure I could do it well enough. But, if I was ordered to, I'd find a way," second-grade teacher Evelyn Rodriguez said.
Suit Filed by Parents
A group of fundamentalist Christian parents filed the lawsuit in an attempt to force the Hawkins County School District to provide alternative books for their children. In addition, the parents want their youngsters taught in a separate area of the classroom.
The seven families contend that their religious beliefs were violated by material in the 1983 series of Holt, Rinehart, Winston reading books used by the school system. The parents have listed 16 categories of objections, including instances of witchcraft, the occult, humanism and pacifism.
Rodriguez said it would be difficult to shield youngsters in one group from learning about material being taught in a second group.
"Children talk. They know if the other group is taking up a story they're interested in," said Rodriguez, who taught several of the families' children at Carter Valley Elementary School.
The first week of testimony ended with 14-year-old Rebecca Frost saying stories in the Holt readers violated her fundamentalist Christian faith.
"The Bible says depart from evil," she said, explaining why she refused to read the books.
Textbook analyst Mel Gabler of Longview, Tex., testified that he found the Holt readers to be based on a humanist philosophy.
'Lead to Anarchy'
"These stories leave the door open for children to believe they're their own authority. If everybody read them, it could lead to anarchy," said Gabler, the 71-year-old author of "What Are They Teaching Our Children."
U.S. District Judge Thomas G. Hull is hearing the case and will seat a jury to hear testimony for damages if he rules in favor of the parents. The school system is scheduled to begin its case Monday.