A nonprofit legal group has issued a second letter to a school district in Florida, urging school officials to allow a fifth grade student to read the Bible during both free-reading periods and the school's Accelerated Reader Program.
Giovanni Rubeo, a fifth grade student at Park Lakes Elementary School in Broward County, was previously punished by his teacher for reading the Bible during a time set aside for the school's Accelerated Reader Program, which monitors a student's progress in reading. Although the school district apologized for the incident and said Rubeo may read his Bible during any free-reading time, it said the fifth grader was not allowed to read the Holy Book during the Accelerated Reader Program.
After researching the Accelerated Reader Program, the Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal group defending Giovanni and his family, discovered that the program does in fact permit the reading of 60 of the 66 books of the Bible.
The legal group then sent a letter to the school district this week, arguing that Giovanni should be allowed to read his Bible during free reading time and during the Accelerated Reader Program.
According to a press release issued by Liberty Institute, the Bible is one of 1,000 books permitted through the Accelerated Reader Program. "Broward County Public Schools justified censoring the Bible because they thought it was not part of the Accelerated Reader® Program, but, in fact, the Bible and other religious books about the Jewish, Buddhist and other faiths are included," Jeremiah Dys, Liberty Institute's senior counsel, said in a press release announcing the letter.
"It is unlawful viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment for the school district to selectively censor religious books from the large list of books available to students in the Accelerated Reader® Program."
Giovanni's case gained widespread media coverage earlier this month, due in part to the stern voicemail left by Giovanni's teacher on his father's cell phone after the fifth grader was reprimanded for reading the book during the Accelerated Reader Program.
The message, left by Giovanni's teacher Swornia D. Thomas, said in part that Giovanni "has a book – a religious book – in the classroom" and that the student was "not permitted to read those books in my classroom."
After receiving the voicemail, Giovanni's father Paul retained the Liberty Institute, who sent an initial letter to the Broward School District, demanding they issue an apology and allow students to read the Bible during free reading times. Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie did issue a public apology to the fifth grader, saying that the situation "should've been handled differently."
Runcie clarified, however, that Giovanni was only allowed to read the Bible during free reading times and not during the Accelerated Reader Program, prompting the Liberty Institute to send their second letter.
The legal group is demanding the school district lift its ban on the Bible during the Accelerated Reader Program by May 19. The school district issued a statement Wednesday to CBS Miami that read: "Today the district received a new legal correspondence from the Liberty Institute which is being reviewed by the General Counsels Office. At all times, Broward County Schools continue to uphold the first amendment rights of students."