Wake teacher suspended for telling students not to wear rosaries

khui@newsobserver.comAugust 31, 2012 

A Wake County middle school teacher who told her students not to wear rosary beads in class was suspended Thursday.

Patricia Corbino, a sixth-grade science teacher at Leesville Road Middle School in North Raleigh, admitted she told her students on Monday not to wear rosaries as necklaces, triggering a parental complaint and a school district investigation. Corbino was suspended with pay Thursday, according to Samiha Khanna, a Wake schools’ spokeswoman. Khanna declined to provide further details because it’s a personnel issue.

Rosary beads are a Roman Catholic religious item. The parent who complained about Corbino, Yvonne McCarty, is a Baptist. Nonetheless she charges that the teacher’s forbidding the wearing of rosaries violated the religious freedom of her students.

“She made a public expression that infringes on our kids’ religious rights,” said McCarty of Wake Forest, whose daughter, Naomi Ward, 10, is one of Corbino’s students.

But Catholic officials say it’s religiously inappropriate to treat rosaries as a necklace and Corbino, according to Naomi, said she’s Catholic and was “offended” by them being worn around the neck.

Corbino said Thursday that she was not allowed by Wake to speak about the case. Corbino was hired by Wake in August 2006 and has a salary of $51,127 a year, according to Khanna.

The rosary is a Catholic series of prayers. Catholics use the beads to keep track of the prayers as they proceed through the rosary.

Wake school board policy on student dress doesn’t specifically mention rosaries, but it says that principals are to make “reasonable accommodations on the basis of students’ religious beliefs.”

Wake school officials did not answer whether students are allowed to wear rosaries. Khanna would only say that “any clothing or accessories would be governed by existing policies on dress code.”

Some schools around the country have banned students from wearing rosaries because the beads are used as gang symbols by some groups. But in the Wake County case, it may have been more of a case of a teacher who objected for religious reasons.

On the first day of classes Monday, Naomi Ward said Corbino told students that she was Catholic and didn’t want them to wear any crosses or rosaries because it would offend her. While Naomi is a Protestant and doesn’t wear a rosary, she said she was concerned because she has folders with crosses on them.

“I was surprised,” Naomi said. “ I thought teachers couldn’t talk about religion.”

McCarty complained to Corbino, who responded to her.

“Let me clarify what was said,” Corbino wrote in a Tuesday email to McCarty. “I asked that if anyone wore a rosary as a necklace that they remove it in my classroom. I have no problems with any cross jewelry or it displayed on a folder.”

The response didn’t satisfy McCarty, who took her complaints to the school administration.

McCarty says she doesn’t want Corbino to lose her job, just to publicly take back her words to the students.

“You can’t tell somebody they can’t exercise their religious beliefs,” she said.

Yet among Catholics there is a debate about whether wearing a rosary is the proper way to exercise their beliefs.

It’s a long-standing tradition among Latino Catholics to wear the rosary beads to show their faith.

But Sister Rose Adams, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, said the church doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to wear rosaries as jewelry. She said rosaries are meant to be used as religious aids to prayer. She said that if she saw a student wearing a rosary in a Catholic school she’d instruct the child about the proper way to use the beads.

“You can’t pray it if you’re wearing it around your neck,” she said.

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Hui: 919-829-4534