FFRF directs MPS Board’s attention to mishandling of church/state case

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is directing the Milwaukee School Board’s attention to poor handling of complaints to the Milwaukee Public School District over a proselytizing substitute teacher.

This February, FFRF sent a letter to the former superintendent after a local complainant reported that a preacher, Jason Storms, was bragging on social media about “preaching boldly” to students while working as a substitute teacher at an MPS school. FFRF asked the district to investigate and provide assurances that Storms would not teach at any MPS school in the future.

Storms boasted that when substitute teaching at an MPS school, “I got to share my testimony and preach boldly to hundreds of students for hours, while the state paid me.”

Instead of addressing the complaint, District Director of Communications & Outreach Denise Callaway has repeatedly insisted that Storms has never worked at an MPS school, despite public records proving this to be false.

FFRF submitted an open records request, and after three months, on June 22, received records confirming that Storms had in fact worked as a substitute at Assata High School, an MPS partnership school, on at least two days in February. The records also reveal that Callaway was aware, at least by March 2, that Storms claimed he had taught at Assata. The open records also confirmed that at least four district parents or residents had contacted the district with concerns about Storms, including one a week prior to FFRF’s first letter. That individual was told by the district that Storms had never been a substitute teacher at an MPS school, with no indication MPS had followed up with community complaints to correct earlier statements.

It is well settled law that public schools may not advance or promote religion, and upon learning of this violation, MPS should have taken appropriate action to ensure it was rectified.

“Parents of Assata students would be reasonably alarmed to learn that the district is unaware of who is teaching their children and refuses to take any corrective action when confronted with a substitute who has bragged about breaking the law while in the classroom, instead denying any responsibility in an apparent attempt to save face,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in his August 10 letter to the school board.

FFRF is asking the school board to investigate these circumstances and respond in writing with the steps taken to ensure that future complaints will be handled in a manner that better serves the interest of MPS students and the law.

FFRF is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including more than 1,300 in Wisconsin. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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