A former Northridge High School teacher has sued Middlebury Community Schools in federal court, alleging his civil rights were violated when he was fired because he is an atheist.
The school corporation maintains it fired German teacher Kevin Pack for insubordination, immorality and incompetence. A day after the lawsuit was filed, the school corporation released to The Elkhart Truth the nine-page list of findings it used as grounds to fire him in April, including that he showed students a movie depicting individuals engaging in sadomasochism.
“We did not terminate Mr. Pack because he is (an) atheist,” Superintendent Jane Allen said Thursday, Jan. 22. “He was a poor teacher. That is why we terminated him, and we still believe the same thing.”
Pack’s suit alleges the actual reason for his termination was retribution objecting to Principal Gerald Rasler’s proselytizing.
The suit alleges several examples in which Rasler brought religion into the public school:
- During a phone interview before he was hired, Rasler asked Pack about his religious beliefs and political leanings.
- Before breakfast or lunch was served during faculty meetings, Rasler asked teachers to take part in a Christian prayer. The prayers offended Pack, an atheist committed to the separation of church and state. Because he was a new hire, he didn’t feel he could openly challenge Rasler, but he declined to act as if he was praying, which Rasler noticed.
- In an email sent to all faculty, Rasler once asked teachers to pray it wouldn’t snow so that student testing wouldn’t be disrupted. In a reply to all recipients of the email, Pack, alluding to his atheism, said he would choose instead to rely upon the predictions of meteorologists.
Rasler’s relationship with Pack started to “sour,” and he began receiving negative evaluations and disciplinary warnings, the lawsuit says. When Pack complained to the school corporation’s human resources department, the department investigated and concluded that Rasler had engaged in proselytizing conduct prohibited by law, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit states that Allen, in recommending Pack’s termination to the board, cited an unidentified film Pack showed to his classes that she said was inappropriate for high school students. Pack believed his predecessor had showed the film to his classes, based on materials left for him.
THE SCHOOL’S FINDINGS
The findings of fact used to terminate Pack state he showed students two films the board felt were inappropriate. Allen said neither had ever been shown at the school, to her knowledge.
The first, “Lola Rennt,” an rated R movie, features a scene with a man bent over a sofa, wearing nothing but a dog collar and a leather thong. A woman in leather lingerie is behind him holding the man on a leash in one hand and winding up a whip as if to strike him in the other hand.
The other film, “The Blue Angel,” features a teacher who marries a showgirl at a nightclub. The film shows people drinking alcohol. When students stated they felt uncomfortable watching it, he told them he had more important things to worry about than some “silly teenage drama,” the board’s findings state.
Pack has said he skipped the objectionable material when showing one of the movies.
The board’s findings also state that a book Pack kept on his counter and pointed out to students offended some of them. Its German title was “something along the lines of ‘All the German You Were Never Taught in School.’” The book featured nude drawings, foul language and sexual content involving animals, the findings state.
The findings included complaints from students that Pack used swear words and made an inappropriate Jewish joke during a lesson over the Holocaust. Co-workers expressed concerns about Pack’s ”stability,” saying they felt unsafe working in the same building with him.
The board also determined that Pack simply was not teaching the students well enough, which was described in numerous ways in the findings.
The suit was filed Wednesday, Jan. 21, in the U.S. District Court in South Bend. Pack’s attorney, Bill Wilson, said he was not available for an interview Thursday, Jan. 22, instead issuing an email statement.
“The First Amendment protects freedom of religion by prohibiting state actors from proselytizing or pressuring people to conform to any religious beliefs,” Wilson wrote. “When a teacher objects to conduct not permitted by the First Amendment, he should not lose his job as a result.”
Citing the pending litigation, Wilson declined to comment on the board’s list of findings. However, he provided a copy of the Indiana State Teachers Association’s proposed findings of fact, which refute many of the allegations. The teachers union, in its role to advocate for teachers in disciplinary matters, had submitted its findings to the school board in April as it was considering Allen’s recommendation to fire Pack.
The board instead accepted Allen’s findings.
“Ultimately, what did or didn’t happen will be determined by the fact-finder in the federal suit,” Wilson said in an email to the Truth.
Pack has since moved back to his native Columbus, Neb. When reached there on Thursday, he declined to comment or say whether he’s found another teaching job, citing the pending litigation.
However, Pack did comment on a related case. He said an Indiana Department of Workforce Development administrative law judge has awarded him unemployment benefits. He said the state initially approved the benefits, but the school corporation appealed, arguing he was ineligible because he had been fired for being “insubordinate.”
After a teleconference hearing involving both sides and their attorneys, the judge in June determined there was no evidence that he had been insubordinate, Pack said.
Allen confirmed that the administrative law judge ruled in Pack’s favor, awarding him unemployment benefits.
“We don’t know why they ruled that way,” she said.
Middlebury Community Schools had yet to respond to the complaint in court as of Friday morning. Federal court rules give defendants up to 21 days to file a response.
Findings filed by Middlebury Community Schools superintendent to fire Kevin Pack
Findings filed by the Indiana State Teachers Association to lobby that Kevin Pack should not be fired