Public Schools

Let the girl dance – and let the principal learn about separation of church and state

  Rob Boston

Sometimes I read a news story online about a foolish thing someone did and can only ask myself, “What could this person possibly have been thinking?”

That question popped into my head immediately after reading about a high school principal in Walker, La., who, for some reason, thought it would be a good idea to lecture a student about Jesus and the Bible after he saw a video of her dancing at an event that had no connection to the school.

The student, Kaylee Timonet, 17, is student government president and a candidate for scholarships due to her top grades. On Sept. 30, Timonet attended a private party off campus to celebrate homecoming at Walker High School. A disc jockey who was playing music at the event made a short video of Timonet dancing and posted it to social media to promote his business, CBS News reported.

Not ‘living in the Lord’s way’

A few days later, the principal, Jason St. Pierre, called Timonet into his office and told her she would lose her position in student government and that he would no longer recommend her for scholarships. Timonet’s mother Rachel reported that St. Pierre told the young woman she was not “living in the Lord’s way,” and printed out Bible verses for her to read. He also asked if her friends “followed the Lord.” (For what it’s worth, Rachel Timonet was at the party with her daughter and said she saw nothing inappropriate about the dance, but that hardly matters – the party wasn’t a school event.)

Kaylee and her mother spoke out about what had happened, and soon the story went viral. Kaylee’s friends launched a campaign called “Let the Girl Dance.” On Oct. 8, St. Pierre posted a message on the school district’s Facebook page apologizing for his actions. He told Timonet and her family that she would face no disciplinary actions.

“Finally, during my conversation with (the student) regarding the dance party, the subject of religious beliefs was broached by (the student) and myself,” the posting read. “While that conversation was meant with the best intentions, I do understand it is not my responsibility to determine what students’ or others’ religious beliefs may be – that should be the responsibility of the individual.”

Rachel Timonet disputed that account and told Baton Rouge’s WAFB-TV that it was St. Pierre who brought up religion. She also said the damage had been done: because of St. Pierre’s actions, her daughter missed a crucial scholarship deadline.

Separation applies in Louisiana too

St. Pierre at first requested a leave of absence but then announced he plans to retire. That’s probably for the best. Yes, this is the Bible Belt, but separation of church and state still applies, and it’s unfathomable that a public school official would conclude that lecturing a student about religion and punishing her for not acting in accordance with his personal religious beliefs was a good idea.

So let the girl dance – and then let officials at Walker High learn about separation of church and state.

Americans United can definitely help with that.

Photo: Rachel and Kaylee Timonet. Screenshot from YouTube.

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