Walter Tutka (center) sits at a recent school board hearing (Photo Credit: WFMZ-TV)
Walter Tutka, a substitute teacher in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, faces an uncertain future, as officials weigh removing him from the classroom -- at least temporarily -- following an incident in which he gave a Bible to a student.
Tutka apparently quoted from the Bible to a student earlier in the school year who was last in line before leaving the classroom. He said, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (found in Matthew 20:16). Curious, the student asked numerous times where the statement originated. After being approached numerous times, the substitute teacher showed the pupil, using his personal copy of the New Testament; he then gave the book to the student as a "gift."
Tutka, facing intense scrutiny, could face severe ramifications, including suspension for one year, over the incident (although the district is purportedly only recommending a three-month leave). While the decision to potentially remove him as a substitute was originally on the Nov. 19 agenda, it has not yet been resolved.
The Phillipsburg School Board will need to hold a vote, however the next meeting will not occur until Jan. 7. The Express-Times adds:
Walter Tutka, of Belvidere, received a letter -- obtained by The Express-Times -- from Phillipsburg Superintendent George Chando last week recommending a 90-day suspension for allegedly giving a student his personal copy of the New Testament during lunch on Oct. 12 at the middle school. The suspension would be effective Oct. 15 2012 until Jan 15, 2013, according to the letter.
The letter states Tutka broke two district polices. One prohibits staff from distributing religious literature on school grounds. The other states if religious material is discussed that staff “be neutral in their approach and avoid using them to advance or inhibit religion in any way.”
WFMZ-TV has more:
On Monday night, the district's December meeting was held, however the topic was not on the agenda. Still, a number of people in the community spoke out in support of Tutka, claiming that he was merely answering a student's question and that he should not be held liable for a church-state separatism infraction.
A statement that was read in support of the teacher noted that the school district's own libraries carry more than 100 books about religion, including Christian-themed literary works. District officials are remaining tight-lipped, though, regarding if and when Tutka's case will be before the board for a vote.
"He was about as neutral as the district giving a young Muslim student in the high school the ability to change his schedule so he can come to school on a Friday, stay until noon so he is not marked as missing the day...and then being released so his parents can drive the hour and a half it takes them to reach their mosque so they can fulfill their Friday worship obligations," one of the speakers, Wayne Duryea, said in a statement.
Despite the challenges ahead, the substitute teacher is remaining positive. He has, for the time being, been removed from the system that the district uses for substitute teachers.
"I think it's going to turn out to be on the positive end," Tutka said. "After all, it is Christmas."