The man behind a display that at one time professed “In Satan We Trust” and “Celebrate Winter Solstice” in Boca Raton’s Sanborn Square is indeed a middle school English teacher. And while his bosses may squirm at every mention, there’s not much they can do as long as he keeps it out of the classroom.
Superintendent Robert Avossa said as much at a meeting Monday morning.
Avossa held the brief conference to boast about the district’s latest graduation rates (they’re better than last year and beating the state’s numbers too) and to talk about the importance of college entrance exams including the SAT (now students who take the PSAT have free access to prep online through Khan Academy).
But then someone asked about Preston Smith.
Avossa confirmed Smith is a Palm Beach County teacher – at Boca Raton Middle according to district records. But, he’s also in the United States, where he has broad freedoms.
“We certainly can’t micromanage what an individual does outside of the school house,” Avossa said.
Friday, the district gave a more detailed response to an apparent complaint via email from the district’s chief communications officer, Amy Schuyler on behalf of Avossa:
Dated Friday Dec. 16, 2016
As you can imagine, our 20,000 District employees are very diverse with equally diverse beliefs and opinions on many topics. The First Amendment guarantees religious freedom and freedom of expression in the United States. Pursuant to the First Amendment, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal and state laws, the Palm Beach County School Board recognizes that employees have the right to freely practice their religion or engage in religious activities on their own time, outside of school activities.
Additionally, the Board recognizes the need to uphold the constitutionally protected right to religious freedom, while at the same time promoting a safe inclusive environment for all students. Board Policy 2.122 recognizes the special relationship between students, school administrators and teachers and expressly bars the from using their position to “advance or disparage any religion or religious belief” while engaged in their official capacities.
The incident referred to in the media involving Mr. Preston (sic) occurred during his personal time and not in his role as a teacher at the school. While I understand you are personally offended by his expression of his First Amendment rights, there does not seem to be any indication Mr. Preston’s personal religious beliefs have been expressed while acting in his official capacity as a teachers.
I appreciate your voice and engagement in our school system. Thank you for taking the time to reach out to us.
Strategic Communications and Engagement
The display shares space with a nativity scene, a Christmas tree and a menorah.