Phillipsburg, New Jersey– A substitute teacher in New Jersey is facing suspension for giving a middle school student a copy of the Bible.
Walter Tutka has been substitute teaching in the Phillipsburg School District for many years, including at Phillipsburg Middle School, but now faces disciplinary action after an incident that occurred this past October.
He states that during the lunch period, while middle school students he was overseeing lined up at the door to be dismissed, he commented to the last student in line, “Remember, the last shall be first.”
Tutka explained that the student then asked several times where the saying came from, and approximately the seventh time, the substitute teacher pulled out his personal Bible and gave it to the student as a gift.
However, the Phillipsburg School Board now claims that Tutka has violated school policy and is subject to official discipline. Last month, the board discussed the matter at its monthly meeting, where a number of area residents showed up to support the substitute teacher.
During the public comment period, four area residents read a prepared statement that outlined why they believed Tutka had done no wrong. They explained that the Phillipsburg Middle School library contains over a hundred books about religion, from Bible Stories for Pleasure Reading and A Biblical Garden, to Harper’s Bible Dictionary and Chicken Soup for the Christian Teenage Soul, which are all freely available to students. Wayne Duryea, one of the commenters, added that the district isn’t necessarily neutral in its actions toward religion either.
“He was about as neutral as the district giving a young Muslim student in the high school the ability to change his schedule so he can come to school on a Friday, stay until noon so he is not marked as missing the day … and then being released so his parents can drive the hour and a half it takes them to reach their mosque so they can fulfill their Friday worship obligations,” Duryea said.
Tutka was also able to speak at the meeting, during which he remained optimistic.
The board was scheduled to vote on the matter last night, but did not do so for an unknown reason.
“I know the right thing will be done,” Tutka told reporters. “I know it will work out for the positive.”
However, the substitute teacher also informed the Express-Times that he received a concerning letter last week from Superintendent George Chando, which outlined his recommendation that Tutka face a 90-day suspension starting in January. His name has already been removed from the substitute teacher’s list because of the October incident.
The letter explained that the suspension is warranted as Tutka violated two school policies: one, that he not distribute any religious literature on school property, and two, the requirement that he “be neutral in [his] approach and avoid using [discussions about religion] to advance or inhibit religion in any way.”
Tutka is a member of Gideons International, the nation’s most recognized Bible distributor, which is known for giving away free Bibles to students nationwide. The substitute teacher says that his act of kindness toward the student was not meant to be part of a Gideons International “distribution.”
School board president Kevin DeGerolamo told reporters last night after the meeting that “it’s possible” that Tutka will still face disciplinary action even though the vote did not go forward as scheduled. The next board meeting is set for January 7th.