- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

NEW YORK — A federal court jury ruled yesterday that the Board of Education did not violate the constitutional rights of a sixth-grade teacher when if fired her for leading students in prayer and talking about Jesus Christ.
After deliberating for eight hours, a jury of five women and two men rejected a lawsuit brought by a Bronx instructor that claimed she had been discriminated against because she is Puerto Rican-born and a Christian.
The conservative Rutherford Institute argued Mildred Rosario's case, which charged that school administrators had violated her rights under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the state laws.
The decision grew out of an incident three years ago that attracted the attention of parents and national political leaders, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican.
According to reports at the time, the 45-year-old woman conceded to school officials that she had led her pupils in prayer and asked "if anyone would like to accept Jesus as their Savior." She then reportedly laid her hands on their foreheads.
The Board of Education terminated her services. As a substitute teacher, Mrs. Rosario was not entitled to the disciplinary process required by the teachers union contract.
Mrs. Rosario, a member of a Pentecostal church, had been hired to teach bilingual classes at Intermediate School 74 in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. Registering one of the poorest performance records in the city, the school had been designated a special district overseen by the school's chancellor.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. Southern District of New York, states that the incident took place before the start of class and after an announcement by the principal, Leroy Johnson, that there would be a moment of silence for a classmate who had drowned.
One pupil reportedly asked where the student was and Mrs. Rosario replied that he was in heaven.
In her written statement to the board, Mrs. Rosario said she had asked how many of the children "would like to hear about God?" Those who did not want to participate could read a book in the back of the classroom, she told the class. It is not clear whether a few or none of the students chose to withdraw.
"I started praying in Spanish," she added. "Then I went to each one of them. I put my hand on their forehead asking Jesus to take care of them and their families."
Mrs. Rosario was ordered out of the classroom after the guardian of one student, a Jehovah's Witness, complained. When asked by school officials if she would refrain from "preaching" in class, the teacher replied she could give no assurance of that.
School officials argued that because of unsatisfactory evaluations of her teaching from February to April, Mrs. Rosario would not have been invited back to teach.Yesterday the Board of Education did not return repeated telephone inquiries for comment on the case.
The complaint also charged that school officials "all of African-American ethnicity," derided Mrs. Rosario's Puerto Rican ancestry and her religion, one of them referring to her as "the church lady."
One reportedly told her: "Because of Jesus, you have lost your job. You will never teach again." Mr. Johnson and an assistant, both of whom are Muslims, reportedly also made derogatory remarks about her religious beliefs.
Attorney Russell Marnell, who argued Mrs. Rosario's case before Judge William H. Pauley III, said that jurors told him they thought that it was a close case, but "they did not feel there was sufficient evidence to connect the firing with discriminatory animus on the part of Mr. Johnson."
He said that Mrs. Rosario, who had temporary certification, will not be able to teach in the city's public school system again.
Rutherford Institute President John W. Whitehead said he was disappointed by the verdict, noting that Mrs. Rosario's actions were spontaneous, not an organized activity.

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