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School Officials Find No Evidence Florida Kindergartner Was Told Not To Pray

By Lauren Roth, Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — School officials said Wednesday they can’t find any evidence to suggest that a kindergartner was told not to pray in a Seminole County elementary lunchroom.

“We found zero evidence an incident ever occurred,” said district spokesman Mike Lawrence. “There’s no proof whatsoever.”

A district attorney sent a letter to the girl’s family and their lawyer outlining their conclusions.

“We apologized for the incident she believes occurred, but there was nothing warranted or found” in the investigation, Lawrence said.

Five-year-old Gabriella Perez told her parents that in March a staffer at Carillon Elementary in Oviedo stopped her from praying over her lunch.

Her father, Marcos Perez, who works for a Christian book publisher in Lake Mary that is promoting a book about the “attack on traditional values” in America, demanded an investigation and apology from the school.

Earlier this month, the girl and her parents described the incident to school officials. According to Lawrence, she was unable to identify a staffer from a selection of photos provided by the district but instead identified an adult from the school’s website. The family’s attorney had previously described the process as a lineup.

As for the identified staffer, a school district investigator has concluded that “there is no way possible that person was anywhere near the lunchroom” that kindergarten and first-graders use. In addition to the student and her family, the district has interviewed staffers, the accused adult and Gabriella’s classmates, Lawrence said.

Perez and family attorney Jeremiah Dys could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

The district declined to release the name of the adult pointed out by Gabriella because the evidence did not find any wrongdoing. No discipline is forthcoming, Lawrence said.

The girl’s allegations spurred national news coverage by Fox News and conservative Christian publications, and the school received threatening phone calls.

“For what the school endured, this is very vindicating,” Lawrence said.

Photo: Vicki’s Pics via Flickr

Kindergartner Says She Was Stopped From Prayer Over Lunch

By Lauren Roth, Orlando Sentinel

A Florida five-year-old who said she was stopped from praying over her school lunch has become a cause for a Texas-based religious liberty law firm.

Marcos Perez posted a video last week on YouTube showing his daughter, a kindergartner at Carillion Elementary in Oviedo, Fla., saying she was confronted when she bowed her head to pray at lunch.

“The lunch teacher said, ‘You’re not allowed to pray,’” said the girl, whose name has not been released by the family. “I said, ‘It’s good to pray.’ She said, ‘It’s not good.’”

The family said the incident happened during the week of March 10. Seminole County Public Schools officials say the principal, Analynn Jones, spoke to staff that could have been in the cafeteria at the time and could not find any evidence the incident occurred.

She was not contacted by Perez until late last Tuesday night, after the video had been posted, school officials said. She responded Wednesday.

Jones made it clear to staff that students do have the right to pray in school, said district spokesman Michael Lawrence.

“We don’t have a policy against student prayer at all,” he said. Both Lawrence and the parents’ lawyer said the staff member allegedly involved has not been identified to them.

After seeing the YouTube video, which was reported on by websites including theblaze.com, the Liberty Institute of Plano, Texas, contacted Perez and offered to represent the family.

The law firm is asking for an apology and a better investigation.

“The principal has pretty much dismissed this,” said Jeremiah Dys, a Liberty Institute lawyer working with the family. “The School Board really needs to take into consideration that students can pray over lunch in school.”

Lawrence said that because none of the adults recalled the incident occurring, the district must consider the possibility that “a child that age may have misinterpreted something.”

School officials have not interviewed the girl, who has been pulled from kindergarten at Carillon by her parents, who said they intend to home school her.

Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary, Florida-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book “God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values,” by Todd Starnes.

Dys said his law firm has not investigated the incident independently but has full faith in the child’s account.

“I don’t think a five-year-old girl is going to create or concoct a story like this,” he said.

Dow Constantine, King County Executive via Flickr