Reading Time: 3 minutes

A second grader was kicked out of Victory Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida after her parents refused to participate in an assignment that involved taking a picture of their child “doing reading homework in bathtub.”

When mother Misty Dunham saw the assignment from teacher Irene Castaneda, she wrote a note back to the teacher saying her 8-year-old daughter would do no such thing:

“I emailed the teacher ‘Hey, you may want to explain that. Send something out to the parents. Let them know what the intentions are.’ This just does not sound OK,” Misty Dunham said. “She did send out a message saying, ‘you should be in pajamas, be in your uniform, have fun with it.’ But, it didn’t sit right.”

Actually, what Castaneda wrote (according to a police report) was “We have been sending this homework assignment home for years, and you’re the only one complaining about it. Just cover your child in pillows or pajamas then.”

As if a picture of a clothed or covered-up child was the exception to the rule.

What the hell were people sending her in the past? (Actually, that’s a valid question for another reason. The school’s Facebook page says Castaneda was hired in August. So how does she know no one else has complained about it?)

If the goal was to have a little fun with the reading homework by having Victory Christian Academy parents take a picture of their kids reading in the bathtub with clothes on and no running water, that should’ve been specified. It wasn’t. When Dunham spoke with other parents about the situation, they were equally flippant, saying things like “Just cover your child up with something.”

Everyone was treating Dunham like she was ruining the fun rather than admitting she had a point.

That’s when Dunham and her husband reached out to the school’s administration as well as the local sheriff’s office. They just wanted to document their concerns more than anything else. (It’s not like anyone was going to be charged with wrongdoing over this.) A police officer advised them not to complete that portion of the assignment.

The story should have just ended there. It was a poorly-explained assignment that rightly upset these parents, the teacher should’ve apologized and clarified, and everyone could have moved on.

But days later, the family received a call from an administrator urging them to withdraw their child from the school. When they refused to do that, he said the school would kick her out anyway:

“(He said) ‘I think you guys should do a parental withdrawal for the child.’ I said, ‘I can’t. I can’t do that. We refuse to withdraw her,’” Misty Dunham said. “He said, ‘OK thank you for saying that,’ and continued on saying that, ‘Well, we’re going to proceed with an administration withdraw.’”

Pastor Jesse Latta later explained to Action News Jax’s Meghan Moriarty that the assignment was “innocent,” but “out of an abundance of caution and for there to be no misunderstandings, our administration has removed this particular assignment for any future use.”

That’s the right move. It actually shows the Dunhams had a legitimate complaint. So why the hell was their child kicked out of school?

No answer.

The whole incident is a microcosm of Christianity’s treatment of sexual abuse: A girl bravely said she was uncomfortable with what an adult was doing, and the church’s response was to punish the girl, not the adult.

It would have been so easy to take care of this problem, but the school’s reaction was to double down on the assignment until the media attention made that impossible, then they took their wrath out on the family, leaving them scrambling to find a new school and forcing the child to make new friends after the school year has already begun.

The family is worse off because they enrolled their kid in a Christian school. Thank goodness they’re sharing their story publicly so everyone else can understand how messed up these kinds of schools can be.

Avatar photo

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.