By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
Forcing a 10-year-old boy to copy Bible verses as a punishment at Redwood School was wrong, school officials admit, but that isn't consoling the mother of the boy.
"A combination of things transpired to make that happen that don't normally happen," said Gary Hudson, principal of Redwood School. "Normally I am available, normally there isn't a Bible in the classroom and normally that particular room isn't used as a detention room. If something can go wrong, it will go wrong."
The unusual punishment came to light last week when the boy, Matthew Pincombe, returned home and told his mother a substitute teacher forced him to copy Bible verses for talking back in class.
Matthew's mother, Teresa Pincombe, said that upset her.
"All I know is my son doesn't want to go back to school now. I don't like any situation there when they have dealt with my child," said Pincombe.
Bibles are used regularly in the classroom of teacher Lou Goodgame. He said he has used the Bible in his social studies class for 25 years as reference material in literature. In the class, the Old Testament book of Esther is referenced. He said the Bible is also used in his history class and is balanced by teachings from Mohammed, Buddha and other religious figures.
"It is a study of how religion affects history," said Goodgame. "Why Egyptians mummified people is a religious practice. Sacrifices by the Aztecs were a religious practice. Why did the pilgrims come to America? Because of religious persecution."
Goodgame said before any student in the class is given an assignment that uses the Bible, a permission slip is first sent home and signed by the student's parents. If a parent objects, an alternative assignment is given to the child.
"Only one parent in 25 years ever said no," said Goodgame. "In that case the student went to the office and read from a different book."
Goodgame said the approximately 50 "Today's English Version" Bibles he uses in class were actually purchased by the school district decades ago when the course was approved by the school board.
"I've been very legal about this because the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) came down on me about it once before," said Goodgame. "So I have been very careful."
Goodgame's precautions broke down last week, however, when classes from the school were rotated on field trips to observe a visiting U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.
Because of the field trip schedules that day, Hudson was off campus and Goodgame was the substituting principal. Goodgame's class was being run by a substitute teacher. Also, the teacher who ran the detention room was gone so that room was locked.
"So what happened is when this boy, Mr. Pincombe, got into trouble, I took him down to my class with 7th- and 8th-graders and sat him down," Goodgame said, because the rest of the 5th-grader's regular classmates were going on the field trip. "Apparently the substitute teacher doing the course didn't realize he was not part of the class ¬Ė he is a big kid."
The substitute teacher, who the school refused to identify, selected a verse from the Bible for Matthew Pincombe to copy, Jeremiah 2:21, according to his mother. The King James version of the verse reads as follows: "Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, holly a right seed, how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?"
"I don't have a problem with the Bible. My kids go to Fort Dick Bible Church, but I have a problem with the verse he had to copy," Teresa Pincombe said. "What really upsets me is the verse. He's not a corrupt vine."
Goodgame said this verse probably wasn't a good choice by the substitute. "There could have been nicer ones, like about the golden rule in Matthew 7:12," Goodgame said.
Hudson said the substitute was not aware there was a problem until it was explained to him later.
"I spoke with him (the substitute teacher). He thought that because it was OK to use the Bible with the other kids in class it was OK with her kid," said Hudson. "He's been told that it was not OK. He knows now that it was not appropriate and it will never happen again."
When asked if she has spoken to Hudson about the issue, Pincombe said she hasn't, adding that it would be a "waste of time."
"Right now I am just looking at putting Matthew in a private school," Pincombe said.
"She didn't actually come to me to make a complaint. She basically put me on notice that she was going to do so," said Hudson. "When I heard all of this I obviously checked it out."