School suspends North Carolina teacher: 'It is never appropriate to segregate students based on religious, political or personal beliefs'

A North Carolina teacher was suspended in "an unfortunate incident," says the school district.

A North Carolina teacher has been suspended with pay and is under investigation for what the school district calls an “unfortunate incident.”

While the school district wouldn't elaborate on the details of the incident involving Julia Lopp, a Spanish teacher at South Johnston High School in Four Oaks, N.C., in a statement provided to Yahoo Lifestyle, it alluded to the teacher segregating students according to their "religious, political or personal beliefs," adding that it's "never appropriate for a teacher" to do so.

A spokesperson from Johnston County Public Schools in Smithfield, N.C., tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Johnston County Public Schools can confirm that this teacher is suspended with pay during the investigation. She was hired as a substitute teacher with Johnston County Schools on August 12 and was later hired as a Spanish teacher at South Johnston High on August 26. The matter continues to be under review by the school system.”

An included notice from school superintendent Jim Causby read: "This is an unfortunate incident and one I wish had not happened. It is never appropriate for a teacher to segregate students based on religious, political or personal beliefs. In fact, it is not appropriate for a teacher to even ask a student what their beliefs are. Our school system takes very seriously the rights of students in these areas and students should never be instructed to not share classroom activities with their parents. The current incident is under investigation by our Human Resources Department and the teacher is currently suspended with pay while the investigation takes place. When the investigation is completed I will review the findings and determine what final decisions need to be made."

Andrew Seidel, a constitutional and civil rights attorney and director of strategic response at the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the non-profit organization receives anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 church-state violations per year, and half originate within the public school system.

“We see lines crossed regularly whether that’s athletic coaches telling students to pray before football games or elementary students to pray before lunch,” Seidel tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Sometimes it’s because teachers don’t have a full understanding of the law or they use their positions of power — both despite substantial training that teachers receive on this issue.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “...Teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities.”

Teachers who violate boundaries, says Seidel, are “entirely indefensible,” adding, “It’s hard enough to be a kid in high school without a teacher giving students reasons to pick on each other.”

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