Aaron Harvey's son wrote as part of a school lesson, "I am willing to give up some of my constitutional rights in order to be safer or more secure.” TheBlaze has redacted the child's name at Harvey's request.
A school district in Jacksonville, Fla. says a lesson where a fourth-grade student brought home a paper about giving up some of his constitutional rights was conducted properly and that there was no "indoctrination" involved.
Instead, the statement was taken directly from a "Justice Teaching" activity, a program that puts volunteer legal professionals in Florida schools to teach about the American legal system and the Constitution. TheBlaze reported last week that parent Aaron Harvey was stunned to read the crayon-written paper his son brought home from Cedar Hills Elementary School that said, "I am willing to give up some of my constitutional rights in order to be safer or more secure."
Harvey told TheBlaze that his son and some of his son's classmates all said their teacher, Cheryl Sabb, told students to write the sentence, and said he was furious that someone was "trying to pollute my child’s mind with biased opinions."
Duval County Public Schools said Friday it would review and investigate Harvey's claim. On Tuesday, the district said the sentence did not come from the teacher, but from the volunteer attorney who taught the lesson, and that it was done in full accordance with the Justice Teaching curriculum.
"Duval County Public Schools’ Professional Standards office has completed its investigation into the assertions made by a parent that a Cedar Hills Elementary School teacher conducted an inappropriate lesson in January on constitutional rights," the district said in a statement to TheBlaze. "Upon examination of the civics-based lessons and activities, and interviews with students, teachers, and school administrators, officials have found no evidence of indoctrination by the teacher. In fact, the teacher never taught the lessons in question."
A district spokeswoman identified the attorney who taught the lesson as Carrington Madison Mead, a Jacksonville lawyer. Mead did not return a request for comment from TheBlaze.
"The lessons, conducted by an attorney who serves as a Justice Teaching volunteer, promote the understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the rights it provides citizens. Both the 'First Amendment Rights' lesson and accompanying 'Teaching about Controversial Issues' activity increase students’ understanding of the amendments and encourage critical thinking. The 'Controversial Issues' activity directs students to write down the statement about relinquishing rights, specify if they agree or disagree, and requires them to offer strong arguments to defend their positions. These lessons conducted by the Justice Teaching volunteer at Cedar Hills Elementary were implemented and facilitated correctly," the district statement said [emphasis added].
The Justice Teaching program is approved by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Marsha Oliver, a Duval County Public Schools spokeswoman, told TheBlaze in an email when asked about the age-appropriateness of the assignment that Cedar Hills Elementary "selected the lessons based on identified grade-level and alignment to Social Studies curriculum."
When TheBlaze first contacted Duval County Public Schools last Wednesday, a spokeswoman said she wasn't aware of the lesson, and later said the district would look into it. Harvey, who hadn't contacted the school about his concerns before speaking to TheBlaze, said he was subsequently told that his son wrote the sentence "on his own free will." He said there was "no way" his son could have written it on his own.
Harvey's story was picked up by a number of local and national news outlets after first appearing on TheBlaze. Since then, the school district said the teacher in question has received "messages of anger and hatred."
“It is our responsibility to address parent concerns,” district Superintendent Dr. Nikolai P. Vitti said in a statement. “However, there is an equal responsibility that the media and community share in ensuring that persons are not condemned until all of the facts are gathered and analyzed.”
Reached by email Tuesday evening, Harvey declined to comment on the school's explanation, and said he would say nothing more until after a meeting with school officials on Friday. He did express regret for any harassment the teacher received.
"It is a poor way for adults to speak out about the situation," Harvey emailed. "We as adults have the ability to teach our children and by acting in a way that we threat [sic] or harass people is not a good way to set an example. My apologies to the teacher because our intention was never for her to receive threats or harassment."