NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that it had reached a settlement with Southeastern Louisiana University and the Tangipahoa Parish School Board over a lawsuit filed by a student teacher who said she was punished for speaking out against classroom devotionals.
Cynthia Thompson filed suit in May 2005 against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board, a teacher and officials at SLU, saying she entered a "nightmare" of constant prayer and proselytizing in a fourth-grade class.
Thompson questioned how a teacher encouraged students to bring Bibles to school, prayer in class and the holding of Bible classes in the school cafeteria. Instead of supporting her, Southeastern officials forced her out of the student-teaching program, denied her a university degree, and a chance at a teaching certificate, she charged.
The ACLU said yesterday that SLU would remove the failing grade Thompson received for the student-teaching course and permit her to enroll in the future so she can graduate.
"The case has always been about free speech and fair treatment," Joe Cook, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a statement. "The ACLU appreciates the efforts of the court in helping the parties to reach a compromise that removes the tarnish from honor student Thompson's file and allows her to pursue a degree at some future time."
SLU and Tangipahoa School Board officials could not be reached for comment for this story.
The Tangipahoa Parish School District has repeatedly come under fire from the ACLU for prayer-related infractions, including prayer before school board meetings.