New Orleans - The ACLU of Louisiana announces a favorable settlement in the case of student teacher Cynthia Thompson versus Southeastern Louisiana University and the Tangipahoa Parish School Board. SLU will remove the failing grade on the student teaching course from her transcript and allow her the opportunity to enroll in the future to complete the requirements for graduation. Furthermore, an investigation of teacher Pamela Sullivan by the school board verified the allegations of officially sponsored prayer in the classroom and Bible study before class, which led to the cessation of such practices.
"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," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "The case has always been about free speech and fair treatment. Hopefully, the outcome will assist others who want to exercise their fundamental right to speak out on a matter of public concern, like official advancement of religion, without fear of sanctions by public officials"
The ACLU originally filed suit on behalf of Thompson against SLU and the Tangipahoa Parish School Board in this case on May 25, 2005 (http://www.laaclu.org/PDF_documents/ThompsonvSLUComplaint.pdf). Thompson, who had made the President's List and the Dean's List and accumulated all of the hours to graduate, was never determined to be a marginal student. Yet two weeks before completion of the student teaching assignment, she was pulled out of the classroom, after teaching all day, and given an untenable ultimatum to withdraw or take an "F." Documents in the case laid out the facts to show that the university did not follow its own rules with regard to what is deemed marginal in the SLU Student Teaching Handbook (http://www.laaclu.org/PDF_documents/ThompsonTRO062705.pdf). Furthermore, the contentious requirement to turn in the student's journal or notebook was never spelled out before the lawsuit was filed. The university has since revised the handbook to that effect.
The ACLU, since 1920, has stood as the nations foremost defender of every person's individual rights as embodied in the Constitution.
Cooperating Attorney Ron Wilson and Staff Attorney Katie Schwartzmann represent the interests of Ms. Thompson. Part of the settlement allows for the recovery of attorneys' fees and costs.