An Oviedo, Florida family was shocked after they heard their 5-year-old daughter’s account of an incident at the girl’s school during lunch. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, the kindergartener (whose name is not being released) told her family that a ‘lunch teacher’ at Carillon Elementary School stopped her when she bowed her head in prayer during the meal.
Last week Marcos Perez, the girl’s father, posted a YouTube video of his daughter explaining the lunchtime interaction. In the footage she recounts the confrontation saying, “My lunch teacher told me that, when I was about to say something, she said, ‘You’re not allowed to pray.’” According to her account the girl continued the conversation with the teacher saying, “’It’s good to pray.’ And she just said, ‘It’s not good.’”
The family says the exchange happened the week of March 10. However, Seminole County Public School officials report that Carillon Elementary’s principal, AnaLynn Jones, spoke to the cafeteria staff present during that time and they do not recall the incident nor interacting with the girl.
WKMG Local 6 spoke to Michael Lawrence, the communications officer for Seminole County Schools who said, "The situation as stated by the parent has not occurred according to the school's investigation…We're dealing with very young children here so there's quite a bit of an opportunity for miscommunication to occur. The timing and the issues were very odd considering that the first thing that happened was that a video was done, it was on YouTube." The school district says the parents did not contact school officials until after posting the YouTube video, but Mr. Perez denied that claim and said he sent the district several emails before his post.
A coincidence that is too striking to ignore was pointed out by the Orlando Sentinel. The paper wrote that Marcos Perez is the “…vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-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 Fox News host Todd Starnes. Starnes reported on the lunch prayer controversy for Fox News Radio.”
The school did not interview the young student, who has since been pulled out of Carillon Elementary and will instead be home schooled. Both Lawrence and the family’s lawyer, Jeremiah Dys, senior counsel for the Texas based Liberty Institute, say that the identity of the staff member allegedly involved has not been given.
Dys has sent the school board and the Carillon principal a letter demanding an apology to the family by April 7 and assurances that steps will be taken to avoid a similar incident in the future.
Lawrence said that Principal Jones would remind Carillon Elementary staff that students are allowed to pray in school, adding, "If a student wishes to pray at lunch to herself we do not have a policy against that.”