School officials: Teacher didn't give inappropriate lesson

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Duval County School District has determined that a Cedar Hills Elementary School teacher did not conduct an inappropriate lesson in January on constitutional rights, as was asserted by a parent last week.

District officials said that upon examination of the civics-based lessons and activities, and interviews with students, teachers, and school administrators, they found no evidence of indoctrination by the teacher, saying the teacher never taught the lessons in question.

The lessons, conducted by an attorney who serves as a Justice Teaching volunteer, promote the understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the rights it provides citizens, officials said. They said both the "First Amendment rights" lesson and accompanying "teaching about controversial issues" activity increase students' understanding of the amendments and encourage critical thinking.

The "controversial issues" activity directs students to write down the statement about relinquishing rights, specify if they agree or disagree, and requires them to offer strong arguments to defend their positions, officials said. They said these lessons conducted by the Justice Teaching volunteer at Cedar Hills Elementary were implemented and facilitated correctly.

Aaron Harvey raised concerns after he said his fourth-grade son came home one day with a piece of paper in his backpack with a message hand-written in crayon that read, "I am willing to give up some of my constitutional rights in order to be safer or more secure."

"It is our responsibility to address parent concerns," Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a news release. "However, there is an equal responsibility that the media and community share in ensuring that persons are not condemned until all of the facts are gathered and analyzed."

Officials said the teacher, whose name and photograph were broadcast by networks around the country, has been falsely accused of indoctrination, evoking messages of anger and hatred. In addition, the Justice Teaching volunteer, an attorney and military veteran, has received similar criticism, officials said.

A statewide program founded in 2006, Justice Teaching is an association of attorneys and judges who deliver standards-based curriculum on government to students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The program and curriculum are approved by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

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