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Classroom Incident Sparks First Amendment Debate

Published On: Dec 24 2007 04:58:23 AM CST   Updated On: Dec 24 2007 12:09:28 PM CST
JANESVILLE, Wis. -

A classroom incident at a Janesville high school two weeks ago is raising some concerns about freedom of speech and school safety.

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Some Janesville parents said that they're concerned that in this incident, in which a student allegedly tore pages from a Bible, the balance between the two was tipped toward the First Amendment, WISC-TV reported.

As many Parker High School students get ready for Christmas break, junior Elle Jacobson is at home and will not be returning like her friends.

"I have never felt threatened like that in a classroom before," said Jacobson.

The 17-year-old is talking about an incident in her English class two weeks ago during a class presentation.

"This boy got up and his visual aid was a Bible and a book. And he got up and started his speech by saying 'Now, this piece of crap' and pointed to the Bible."

Jacobson said that she quickly felt threatened.

"He took the Bible and he said, 'I'm going to do this because I can. I'm going to do something that your stupid, little minds aren't going to be able to comprehend and he took the Bible and started ripping out pages."

School officials said that they know about the incident.

"We take this extremely seriously," said Dr. Karen Schulte, Janesville School District safety and security coordinator.

Officials said that they will not confirm whether the boy was suspended.

"We do an assessment of this situation and students involved to ensure the safety of every student and staff at that school," said Schulte.

Officials said that ripping up a Bible is constitutionally protected, adding the punishment has nothing to do with the student's Freedom of Speech demonstration.

"Any actions that were taken in this case were because of behavior separate from the Bible," said Parker High Principal Dale Carlson.

Some parents said that they disagree with the school's reaction.

"The school worries about his right to privacy and to free speech that to teachers' rights or the students' right to safety," said Paul Jacobson, Elle?s father.

He said that he's pulling his two high school daughters out of Parker High.

"It's not about free speech. It's not about necessarily about the Bible although that was disgusting, too. This is about the vicious, vile manner in the way this kid went about this and tried to make some kind of point," he said.

Elle Jacobson's parents are looking for another school for their daughters.

Parker High School officials aren't saying whether the student who sparked the controversy is back at school.

In a separate incident, following the punishment, three Parker High Students wore T-shirts asking for the student in question to be brought back after a punishment was levied against him. School officials made those students change clothes.

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