“Bless you.” For uttering those words, a student at William C. Wood High School in Vacaville, Calif. was punished this week by a teacher who claimed that the student disrupted his classroom.
“It’s not … got anything to do with religion,” Wood High health teacher Steve Cuckovich told KTXL News in Sacramento. “It’s got to do with an interruption of class time.”
Rather than issue the student a warning for his alleged offense, Cuckovich decided to take 25 points off the student’s grade, the better to deter other students from mouthing “bless you” or other religious phrases that offend the teacher’s sensibility.
“The blessing really doesn’t make sense anymore,” Cuckovich explained. “When you sneezed in the old days, they thought you were dispelling evil spirits out of your body. So they were saying, ‘God bless you,’ for getting rid of evil spirits. But today, what you’re doing really doesn’t make sense.”
Parents of Woods High students disagree with the school’s health teacher. They say that what doesn’t make sense is that he would go to the extreme length of punishing a student for such innocent words.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” said parent Alan Johnson. “First, the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, preventing a kid from saying ‘bless you?’”
Wood High Principal Cliff McGraw agreed that Cuckovich went overboard in his punishment. “He realizes he there’s better ways to do that,” McGraw said. “We don’t condone that kind of punishment.”
That doesn’t mean that the health teacher will now allow students to speak the words “bless you” in his classroom. He just will find a less Draconian way to punish perpetrators, he said.
The controversy in Vacaville is just the latest example of what many in California’s evangelical community perceive as growing anti-Christian, anti-religion bigotry in the state’s public schools.
Just this month, in fact, a 3-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with school officials in Poway, Calif. who ordered high school math teacher Brad Johnson to remove two patriot banners he has displayed in his classroom for 25 years, which proclaim “In God We Trust,” “God Bless America,” and “God Shed His Grace On Thee.”
Back in March, a 16-year-old high school student in El Cajon, Calif. sued the local school district after being suspended two days last year for bringing his bible to school and sharing his faith with interested classmates.