Patricia Corbino, Leesville Road Middle teacher, suspended after students told not to wear rosaries

RALEIGH, N.C.-- A middle school teacher who told her students not to wear rosary beads in class was suspended this week.

Patricia Corbino, a sixth-grade science teacher at Leesville Road Middle School, 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 a Wake schools' spokeswoman.

Rosary beads are a Roman Catholic religious item. The parent who complained about Corbino, Yvonne McCarty, is a Baptist. Nonetheless she said 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, whose daughter, Naomi Ward, 10, is one of Corbino's students.

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 she was not allowed by Wake to speak about the case. She was hired by Wake in August 2006.

Catholics use the beads to keep track of prayers.

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."

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 an 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.

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