PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. – A substitute teacher that was fired for giving a middle school student his Bible during the lunch period has been granted reconsideration of his complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
As previously reported, the Commission had dismissed a discrimination complaint filed by Walter Tutka last month due to a lack of evidence, but attorneys for the former substitute teacher asserted that the decision was unfair.
“The EEOC asked for additional information so they could consider the claim brought by Walt,” Hiram Sasser of the Texas-based Liberty Institute told reporters. “They gave him 30 days to deliver the information.”
Sasser said that while Tutka had until May 15th to provide evidence, which he submitted on May 14th, he later received a letter from the EEOC dated May 10th dismissing his claim over a lack of information.
Tutka, a longtime substitute teacher for the Phillipsburg School District, was placed under possible disciplinary action late last year after it was discovered that he had given his personal copy of the Bible to a student at Phillipsburg Middle School.
Tutka states that one day in October, while the students he was overseeing lined up at the door to be dismissed for lunch, he commented to the last student in line, “Remember, the last shall be first.” He explained that over the next few weeks, the student asked several times where the saying came from, and approximately the seventh time, Tutka pulled out his personal Bible and gave it to the student as a gift.
However, upon learning of the incident, the Phillipsburg School Board claimed that Tutka violated school policy. The matter was discussed during a board meeting last November, where a number of area residents showed up to support the substitute teacher.
Tutka acknowledged to reporters in December, however, that he had received a concerning letter from Superintendent George Chando, which outlined his recommendation that Tutka face a 90-day suspension beginning in January. The letter explained that the suspension was 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’s name was also removed from the substitute teacher’s list because of the October incident.
In January, the board again addressed the matter during its monthly meeting and decided to go much further than the 90-day suspension — it fired Tutka.
“I am thrilled that the EEOC has changed its mind about reviewing my case and look forward to a successful resolution,” Tutka said in a statement after the EEOC decided to reopen his case.
“It makes sense, and we’re glad they’re going to do the right thing by reopening the case and considering the evidence,” Justin Butterfield of The Liberty Institute told The Express-Times. “We want to have a fair consideration of this claim, and the only way we can have that is if they look at the evidence he provided them.”