Skip to comments.'Stand for God' costs teacher his job
Posted on 12/22/2004 7:05:54 AM PST by Graybeard58
With all the accolades heaped on Robert Ziegler last night, it looked at times like his bosses were giving him a commendation rather than firing him.
Robert Ziegler, right, hugs Papillion-La Vista High Principal Jim Glover after being fired by the district's school board Tuesday.
Ziegler, 24, a Papillion-La Vista High School math teacher, was described as a "a marvelous young man," "an asset to the community," "honest, candid, capable."
"I hope my son can turn out to be as fine a gentleman as Mr. Ziegler," said Rick Black, an assistant superintendent for the Papillion-La Vista schools.
But Ziegler's bosses also said he repeatedly disobeyed their orders to stop preaching and start teaching.
Black and two other administrators said Ziegler had repeatedly talked about his personal religious beliefs in class, triggering complaints from students and a parent, and would not stop, even after his bosses told him it could cost him his job.
After taking testimony from the administrators and from Ziegler for two hours and 40 minutes Tuesday night, the Papillion-La Vista School Board voted 6-0 to terminate Ziegler's teaching contract on grounds of insubordination and unprofessional conduct.
Board President Valerie Fisher said the evidence was "clear." The board deliberated about 50 minutes.
Afterward, Ziegler said he would not challenge the decision in court. He did not have a lawyer, and he called no witnesses.
About 75 people - including some of his family members from the Riverton, Neb., area - attended the special hearing, which Ziegler requested to plead his case to the board.
Ziegler was a second-year teacher who got his bachelor's degree from Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. Bethel is an evangelical Christian college affiliated with the Missionary Church.
At the hearing, he told board members that his case was their opportunity to "make a stand for God."
"You're either for him or against him" he said.
Ziegler said that as a teacher he saw 120 students a day, many with "issues and worries" that were barriers to learning. By giving up their cares to Jesus, the students would be free to learn, he said.
The district's lawyer, Kelley Baker, however, asserted that the law clearly prohibits teachers from imposing their religious beliefs on students and from praying with or in the presence of them.
In a legal brief for the board, Baker wrote that school districts that fail to stop improper practices regarding religion can be held liable for a teacher's actions.
"School administrators have both the right and the obligation to direct teachers not to engage in such activity during school, and to stop it if they are already engaging in it," Baker wrote.
Jerry Kalina, an assistant principal at the high school, testified that a co-teacher from Ziegler's classroom first reported Oct. 4 that Ziegler was talking to students about his religious beliefs in class.
Ziegler was told to stop, but the co-teacher reported on Nov. 1 that he was doing it again, Kalina said.
A few days later, a student came to Kalina's office and said Ziegler was talking about his faith and that it upset her, Kalina said. The student said Ziegler had stopped her in the hall and asked if he could pray for her. She told him she felt uncomfortable while he prayed.
The girl's mother complained on Nov. 8 that she expected her daughter to learn math, not religion, in the class, Kalina said.
Kalina said he again told Ziegler to stop.
He said Ziegler was encouraged to talk to his minister and to contact former Cornhuskers receivers coach Ron Brown to get advice on how to juggle his beliefs and his teaching duties.
On Nov. 16, a student again raised the issue of Ziegler speaking about religion in class, Kalina said. The student said Ziegler wrote on the board "What inspires you to love people?" and another time "If you were to die today, what would you put on your tombstone, and why?"
The next day, a teacher reported that a student was not doing well in algebra because she felt uncomfortable asking Ziegler for help, Kalina said.
Ziegler was placed on administrative leave, with pay, on Nov. 18.
Kalina testified that he would "absolutely" like to have Ziegler back in the classroom, but only if he met one condition: "That he stop talking about Jesus Christ."
"My opinion is Mr. Ziegler was hired to teach math," he said. "And math instruction must come first."
Ziegler testified that his faith was too strong to set it aside.
"What they are telling me to do is in direct contradiction to what my authority, my God, is telling all believers to do," Ziegler said.
He admitted that on some days he spent up to 10 minutes per class discussing religion, though school officials said they had reports of longer periods.
Jim Glover, the principal at Papillion-La Vista High School, said Ziegler wasn't the first teacher he'd seen with strong beliefs.
"Over the last 32 years, there have been a number who have struggled as Rob has struggled. All were able to eventually make the separation," he said.
School board member Jim Thompson said that in eight years on the board, the hearing was the "toughest" meeting he'd attended.
Thompson said he hoped Ziegler could find a teaching job where professing his faith is "not only legal, but encouraged."
Cassie Young, 16, a student in one of Ziegler's pre-algebra classes, was among several students who left the hearing teary-eyed after the board announced its decision.
Young said the decision was "one more way of kicking God out of school."
"The law of man is wrong, and one day everyone will know that," she said.
Well, I agree to a point, that he shouldn't be using the classroom for this.
I'm sure, however, that if he was promoting gay marriage, abortion, sexual promiscuity, etc. he would still have his job.
Yes, he should be a teacher in a private Christian school. "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar."
One intollerant parent ruins an entire class.
You forgot trashing dead white men, proving Thomas Jefferson had illegitimate black children and celebrating Ramadan.
And a certificate for Teacher of the Year from the local school board....
"What inspires you to love people?"
"If you were to die today, what would you put on your tombstone, and why?"
These are *math* questions???
I can appreciate and respect his convictions, but he did not use wisdom. He was hired to teach math and let his convictions to God and Christ get in the way of that. It is kind of fraudulent of him to agree to get paid to teach math, then spend so much class room time speaking of his faith.
Everybody knows about the religion exception to the First Amendment.
Its better he move on...there are plenty of good Christian schools that he can teach at. And he'll be better for it.
Exaclty, if he'd been preaching the queer screed he'd have been given an award.
My highschool social studies teacher used to spend 10 minutes or more of class time talking about how Reagan was a murdering butcher and how big business was ruining America...could we call that preaching?
Seriously, this guy went too far. Hope he finds a good Christian school to teach in.
Well, I know that *I* would be intollerant of a math teacher teaching anything but math. What he does out of class or away from school is another matter... but schools are bad enough with math teachers preaching and English teachers going off on political rants.
Yep. He is paid to teach, not preach and God can stand up for himself. He didn't win any lost kids by disobeying his authorities in front of them.
He's also teaching the wrong subject at the
wrong level of education. If he has a need
to express his own religious beliefs, he should
be teaching comparative religion/ethics/sociology
in a parochial school or at the college level.
Many Teens are not ready to explore their own
mortality, contemplate an after life, much less
the Overall Purpose of Life.
I agree with his dismissal...he was hired to teach mathematics.
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