A teacher at West Johnston High is under investigation for comments he allegedly made after a Christian student group posted a Bible verse inside the school.
“Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything” is from Philippians 4:6. A student from the group wrote the message on a piece of paper and placed the popular scripture on a wall inside the Benson-area school.
According to several emails received by JoCoReport, a teacher Brian VanDerlaske, allegedly placed his own message beside the Bible verse with an arrow pointing to the scripture stating, “If you are sick you should go to the doctor. This is terrible medical advice. Some people have died/gone to jail because of it.” Next to his comments VanDerlaske also posted a copy of an online news article entitled, “Parents given jail terms for relying on prayers to save dying daughter”.
First Amendment rights protect the censorship of student religious expression. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that schools may not organize and sponsor religious events, however individual students are free to openly pray and share their faith in public school settings. Discrimination against private religious expression during a school day is unlawful, the courts have ruled.
JoCoReport reached out to VanDerlaske, who is a former Johnston County Schools Teacher of the Year. In an email Thursday morning, VanDerlaske apologized for his actions. “Because of my personal experience of ignoring cancer symptoms for too long, I made a poor choice to offer unsolicited advice in an inappropriate venue and in the wrong tone. It was not my intention to cause distress to any students, staff, parents or community members. I have been a teacher for over ten years, and I strive to provide a positive learning environment for all of the students in our school. I take full ownership of my mistake and I will work to be and do better everyday.”
VanDerlaske was selected the Teacher of the Year in 2018 for his project “Kindness and Gratitude” which involves his students going out and committing three acts of kindness then finding a way to frame that into a professional presentation. “A typical day in my classroom is filled with a lot of energy,” said VanDerlaske in 2018. “I like to make sure my students know that I’m there for them. I like to be active, involved, and to know how they’re doing.”
“It is both disturbing and disappointing to see that instead of seeing a message that seeks to unite and inspire those around them, this teacher went negative,” said A.P. Dillon, a conservative education blogger and Triangle area reporter. “Regardless of what may have been going on in their personal life, a teacher singling out Christian students in such a vehement manner is uncalled for and unprofessional.”
JoCoReport shared the photos and copies social media posts we received Wednesday from tipsters with Dr. Jim Causby, Superintendent of Johnston County Schools. Dr. Causby confirmed school administrators were already aware of the teacher’s comments and a number of social media posts about the Bible verse incident.
“My staff and I are aware of this situation. We have copies of the social media posts,” Dr. Causby said. “Our Human Resources Department along with the Area Assistant Superintendent are working with the school principal to fully investigate the facts and decide on an appropriate response.”
JoCoReport will continue to follow this story and report on any updates that we receive.