In 2006, Bonnie Cole, a practicing Christian, became the Assistant Principal at Bullard Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia. In 2014, she and other teachers began introducing children to yoga exercises that involved breathing and stretching and meditation in order to help kids reduce their stress and relax.
It seemed to work. The school reported a 33% decrease in disruptive behavior and policy violations following the introduction of those yoga sessions.
But it wasn’t long before some parents began to complain that Cole was “trying to indoctrinate their children with Buddhism.” They also claimed she read kids a book called Peaceful Piggy Meditation to further indoctrinate the kids… even though the book had a Jewish author and never mentioned Buddhism.
It got worse. One day in 2016, parents held a prayer rally “for Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism.” A couple of parents even prayed outside Cole’s office the following day.
At this point, the school board along with administrators should’ve told the parents to back off. There was no religious indoctrination going on and Cole wasn’t doing anything wrong.
They didn’t do that. Later that month, they shut down the yoga sessions and, according to Cole’s eventual lawsuit, “voted to move Ms. Cole to another school 16 miles further from her home.” The move to a new school added a full hour to her commute.
In her lawsuit, filed in 2017, Cole said this amounted to “reverse religious discrimination” — meaning she was discriminated against for religious views she didn’t even hold. She was punished, she claimed, for not being sufficiently Christian enough for the community’s liking.
Not only was the capitulation and transfer a humiliating and public demonstration of the District’s lack of support of Ms. Cole, it made clear to the community that religious activities will be allowed as long as they are part of the “accepted” religion of Christianity as understood and practiced by members of the CCSD Board of Education and Defendant [Superintendent Chris] Ragsdale.
Cole also sued for retaliation by the school board, saying they didn’t support her despite “wild and baseless accusations” made against her by a group of parents and, in fact, punished her due to those complaints.
The district said religion had nothing to do with their decision to transfer Cole; they just wanted to “restore order” to the school.
Well, now that order has been restored. The district voted 4-3 to settle the case instead of fighting what surely would have been a losing battle in court.
The settlement agreement calls for the district to pay $150,000 in exchange for “a full release, no admission of liability, and (her) resignation effective June 30, 2021,” according to Nan Kiel, a spokesperson for the school district.
It’s arguably the best option they had on the table. It costs them a lot of money, but they get to pretend they did nothing wrong. The dissenting board members wanted to keep fighting to prove that in court.
Had the case continued, it would have gone before a jury later this year.
At least Cole gets a semblance of a victory. This entire controversy began because her desire to help children was ruined by a school board that capitulated to angry Christian parents too ignorant to realize that stretching and controlling one’s breathing weren’t the same as proselytizing. She never should have been punished for that.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)