Katy Skid

A middle school student in Katy, Texas, claimed her teacher insisted she deny the existence of God; but the assignment in question was taken far out of context in media reports.

NEWS: A middle school student in Katy, Texas, claimed a teacher “asked the class to deny God exists,” as covered in a 28 October 2015 Fox News segment on the controversy involving Katy Independent School District in Texas:

‘Is God real?’ If you say yes to that question, you fail the test … that is exactly what happened [in Katy, where students were instructed] to label God as fact, assertion, or opinion.

On 27 October 2015, Houston-area television station KHOU reported a West Memorial Junior High School teacher issued an assignment that involved classifying a number of statements as factual claims, commonplace assertions, or opinions. The statement “There is a God” was among the items students were instructed to correctly categorize under one of those three options, and one student claimed she was forced by the teacher to acknowledge that the existence of God was not a fact (i.e., to disclaim that God is “real”):

[Jordan Wooley] says her teacher asked the class to deny God exists. Wooley originally answered the question ‘there is no God’ in two ways. “I said it was fact or opinion,” said Wooley, adding she answered that way because “based on my religion and based on what I think and believe, I do not think it was a commonplace assertion.” Wooley says her seventh grade reading teacher at West Memorial Junior High School said both her answers were wrong and that she had to admit God wasn’t real.

KHOU tweeted a photo of the assignment in question, and the existence of God was one of several statements (the balance of which were not faith-based in nature) students were tasked with classifying:

Houston station KTRK similarly reported of the assignment that:

District officials [said] that the 12-year-old girl’s story is not the same one that other students told officials. They also say that the other students claim this reading teacher did not say there was not a God during an assignment in class. The district said they interviewed eight of the 22 students who were in that same classroom.

A reading teacher passed out a critical thinking worksheet in class. Students were instructed to pick if something was fact, opinion or common assertion. One of the statements on the worksheet read, “There is a God.”

Jordan Wooley, 12, and her mother Chantel spoke in front of the Katy ISD school board to complain that the teacher told students that God is a myth and questioned his existence.

Katy ISD Superintendent Alton Frailey said, “In the investigation those assertions were not corroborated by the other students. Was the activity graded? It was not graded. Was it 40 percent of their grade? Were the students told they had to deny God? No one corroborated that, at all.”

Chantel Wooley says she stands by her daughter. She also said that somebody is telling the truth and somebody is not.

Katy ISD says the teacher explained that a commonplace assertion exists when there is room for debate. [The district also said] the worksheet will not be used again in classrooms and that students did not get graded on that assignment.

On 27 October 2015, Katy Independent School District released a statement [PDF] via Facebook in response to growing controversy:

Yesterday, October 26, at the end of the school day, two West Memorial Junior High parents contacted the school’s principal to share their concern over a classroom activity that they felt questioned students’ religious beliefs. The school principal immediately responded to the parents by informing them that she would investigate and meet with the teacher the following morning. At the conclusion of the investigation today, the principal determined that the classroom activity included an item that was unnecessary for achieving the instructional standard. The activity, which was intended to encourage critical thinking skills and dialogue by engaging students in an exercise wherein they identified statements as fact, opinion, or common assertion was not intended to question or challenge any student’s religious beliefs as reported by some media outlets.

The teacher is distraught by this incident, as some commentary has gone as far as to vilify her without knowing her, her Christian faith, or the context of the classroom activity. Still, this does not excuse the fact that this ungraded activity was ill-conceived and because of that, its intent had been misconstrued. As a result, the activity will no longer be used by the school, and the teacher has been advised and appropriate personnel action will be taken. The school regrets any misconceptions that may have resulted from this teacher-developed classroom activity and assures its school community that the religious beliefs of all students and staff are welcomed and valued at West Memorial Junior High.

By the time the Katy controversy reached Fox News viewers on 28 October 2015, the district had already provided additional detail on the dispute that strongly contradicted Fox’s subsequent on-air assertions. Between the above-reproduced image of the assignment (shared on 27 October 2015 by KHOU) and the district’s statement, it appeared clear students were simply asked to properly identify faith as an opinion or assertion (not fact), and pupils were never encouraged by a (Christian) teacher to deny the existence of God. Nevertheless, the Katy Independent School District revised the lesson and implied the teacher had been reprimanded over the misrepresented controversy.