OVIEDO, Fla. — The parents of a kindergartner in Florida have pulled their child from public school after they state that their daughter told them that she was recently not allowed to pray over her lunch.
Marcos and Kathy Perez had been considering homeschooling their five-year-old daughter Gabriella, but advise that the alleged incident put matters over the top. Gabriella attends Carrillon Elementary School in Oviedo, and her father works as vice president of sales at the Christian book publisher Charisma House.
The Perez’ state that their daughter told them recently that one of her lunch monitors had spotted her praying over lunch and stopped her from doing do. When they asked her again about the matter to ensure that the story was true, they emailed the school and recorded a video of Gabriella outlining the incident in her own words.
“I was about to pray and say something to Jesus,” Gabriella explained, showing how she had put her hands together and bowed her head. “My lunch teacher told me when I was about to say something, she said, ‘You’re not allowed to pray.’”
“[I said] ‘It’s good to pray,’” the kindergartner continued. “And she just said, ‘It’s not good.’”
The Perez’ contacted Principal Analynn Jones, who then spoke to staff members about the issue and to outline that students have the right to pray in school. But Jones says that none of the teachers recall the incident.
“The situation as stated by the parent has not occurred according to the school’s investigation,” Michael Lawrence, communications officer for Seminole County Schools told WKMG-TV. “We’re dealing with very young children here, so there’s quite a bit of an opportunity for miscommunication to occur. The timing and the issues were very odd considering that the first thing that happened was that a video was done; it was on YouTube.”
However, Gabriella’s parents state that they believe her daughter, and remark that they didn’t think anyone at the school would own up to their actions.
“I told her she did the right thing,” Kathy Perez told the Orlando Sentinel. “I don’t doubt for a minute that my daughter is telling the truth.”
The Texas-based Liberty Institute has now offered free assistance to the family, and recently sent a letter to officials at Carrillon Elementary School, requesting that it openly admit wrongdoing and take measures to prevent further problems with students.
“To resolve this issue amicably, we ask that the school district issue a public apology for this instance of religious discrimination and announce the steps it is taking to ensure this does not happen in the future on or before April 7, 2014 to avoid any enforcement actions,” the letter read.
“The principal has pretty much dismissed this,” attorney Jeremiah Dys told reporters. “Saying a five-year-old cannot pray over her chicken nuggets and mac and cheese isn’t in line with the Constitution.”