A pre-kindergartner who included God on his list of 'favorite things' has been expelled from his California school for breaching the wall between church and state. School officials say that three-year old Jacob Sapperstein can return to school next week, after counselors have had a chance to assess the damage done to his classmates.
Parents say Jacob may have been trying to spell 'DOG'
By Cole Walters, education correspondent
MARINDELL, CA--What started out as just another day at pre-kindergarten ended in tears and restraints for one three-year-old after he mistakenly included 'God' on his list of favorite things. Teacher Erica Rusty immediately notified school officials, who summoned local authorities. And while his fellow students at Bryant Elementary School had their afternoon naptime, young Jacob Sapperstein was being led away in a squad car, charged with breaching the wall between church and state.
Secular things only please
When the offense occurred, explains Ms. Rusty, the students were engaged in an exercise called 'favorite things,' an assignment intended to improve their spelling and penmanship by listing a few items that they like best. "Some kids write down 'mom' or 'dad' or maybe the name of a pet, even a favorite video game." As the children practiced writing on wide-lined paper, Ms. Rusty went from desk to desk supervising their work. "As soon as I saw what Jacob had written, I knew we were in big trouble."
The anti-God squad?
In just minutes, Principal Marcia Neiman-Jarvis had stepped in, first removing Jacob from the classroom, then notifying the authorities. "We're following the letter of the law," explains Neiman-Jarvis. "There is a strict separation between church and state, and Jacob breached it. Whether he did so intentionally or by accident remains to be seen."
Principal Neiman-Jarvis dismisses complaints by some teachers and parents, including Jacob Sapperstein's mother and father, that the three-year-old was removed from school property in an unnecessarily harsh fashion. He was not placed in handcuffs, she notes, as his wrists were too small. "The police used twist ties of the sort that you might use to secure a garbage bag. Jacob was perfectly comfortable."
Kindergartners left behind
The incident is just the latest in an epidemic of expulsions of youngsters from their kindergarten class rooms for offenses that run the gamut from kicking to biting and hair pulling. A recent study by researchers at Yale University, entitled "Pre-Kindergartners Left Behind," found that three and four-year olds are being thrown out of school in record numbers, and as a result could be 'left behind' to face seven years of earthquakes, floods and blood-boiling fires during the period known as the Tribulation. It is not known what percentage of kindergartners have been expelled for breaching the wall between church and state.
Pleading for mercy
Jacob's parents, Judith and Michael Sapperstein, have acknowledged the seriousness of their son's offense, but say that they hope Bryant Elementary will show him some leniency because of his age--and the fact that this is Jacob's first instance of anti-secular behavior. Michael Sapperstein also notes that there is some evidence that Jacob's error was not intentional. "He's not a strong speller. He definitely has a tendency to get things turned around. So we're hoping that what happened here was that Jake was trying to spell 'dog.' He adores Lilly, our 10-year-old golden retriever."
As for the three and four-year-olds with whom Jacob Sapperstein had, until this week, been spending part of each day, Ms. Rusty says that they're recovering from the incident--with the aid of some onsite counseling. "We've spent a lot of time talking about what happened, about what Jacob did that was wrong and what is and is not appropriate to talk about in the classroom, whether we're listing our favorite things or doing show and tell."
A school for secularists
This is not the first time that Bryant Elementary has made headlines for its aggressive defense of the separation between church and states. Last year the school attracted the ire of conservative commentators and advocates for Christ after it banned all gifts containing the word 'God,' including Godiva brand chocolates, books, videos or DVD's of the Godfather, along with images of Godzilla. A memo from Principal Neiman-Jarvis outlining the school's controversial ban on God-related gifts quickly became a cause celeb among conservatives.
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