The Rutherford Institute is taking on the case of a Massachusetts second grader who was forced by the local school district to undergo psychological evaluations for drawing a stick figure, crucified Jesus with his own name on a placard above the corpus.
“This is a case of overreaction by school officials,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute on Wednesday.
On Dec. 2, second grader Jalen Cromwell was taken to the principal's office at Lowell M. Maxham School in Taunton, Mass. where he was questioned about his drawing of Christ. According to his family, the picture reflected the child's impressions of a recent family trip to the Christmas lighting at the Shrine of La Sallette.
According to a Dec. 16 letter written to the Taunton School District by John Whitehead, President of the Rutherford Institute, Jalen drew the picture at school during free time after a snack break. “Jalen placed the picture inside his desk but for some reason it was removed and inspected,” Whitehead recounted in his letter.
Jalen was then taken to Principal Rebecca Couet's office and questioned without the presence or notification of his parents. The letter claims that this questioning greatly disturbed Jalen and that only afterward was his father, Chester Johnson, contacted. When Johnson arrived, he was shown the picture and told that his son needed to leave and could not return until he had undergone psychological evaluation.
The next day, Melissa Cromwell, Jalen's mother, went to the school to discuss the matter further and was told by the principal that Jalen needed to be removed due to school policy.
“When Ms. Cromwell asked Principal Couet to point out the policy in the school's handbook, the principal was not able to do so and Ms. Cromwell still has received no satisfactory explanation as to why Jalen's removal was required,” stated Whitehead's letter.
In response to these allegations, the Taunton School District released a press statement on Tuesday claiming that Jalen was not suspended, that the current drawing being circulated in the media is not the original drawing and that communication between Jalen's parents and the district are “positive and cooperative.”
“He wasn't technically suspended, but he was removed from school,” Whitehead told CNA on Thursday, “which means, he was in effect, suspended.” Whitehead explained to CNA that Jalen was told to leave on Wednesday Dec. 2 and could not return to class until the following Monday.
As evidenced by the numerous interviews they have recently given, “the parents are not cordial,” said Whitehead in response to the Taunton School District's Dec. 15 statement that Jalen's family and the school have been “working together in a cooperative and positive manner.”
The school district claimed on Dec. 15 that “the drawing published in various media outlets is not the same drawing that was discovered by the teacher.” Two different drawings have been recently circulated in the media, both identical images of the crucifixion, with the exception of Jalen's name being written above the cross on a placard on one of the images. Some have speculated that Jalen's name was removed by the family before it was released into the media in order to protect the boy's identity.
The Rutherford Institute could not confirm this to CNA, but has posted an image without Jalen's name on its website.
“If they (the school district) have another drawing, they have yet to produce it,” Whitehead told CNA on Thursday.
According to Whitehead, Jalen has informed his parents that he no longer trusts his teachers nor wants to continue attending Lowell M. Maxham School. Jalen's parents are currently requesting that the school arrange for Jalen to be transferred to an out of district school and to compensate them for transportation costs.
Whitehead noted what he believes to be the severity of the situation in his letter to the Taunton School District, stating “the effective suspension of Jalen from school deprived him and his parents if their constitutional rights to due process and punished Jalen for engaging in protected speech.”