County court to get religion case

The Tribune Chronicle, Aug. 8, 2002
By JOE GORMAN Tribune Chronicle

BROOKFIELD – A lawsuit filed in federal court against Brookfield Local Schools on behalf of a Masury boy who said he was not allowed to write a letter to Jesus will be withdrawn and refiled in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

Mark Colucci, the attorney for Peggy Koehler and her 14-year-old son, Phillip Vaccaro, said Wednesday that he has to file the suit in state court by Aug. 19 because that’s the date he is set to appear on the FoxNews Channel program ”The O’Reily Factor” with his clients.

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Colucci also said he wants the case to be heard locally instead of in Akron, where it was assigned to U.S. Northern District Judge Aaron Polster.

”With all the support in the community, why not bring it back here?” Colucci said. ”We’ll come and we’ll have a trial in their back yard and see what a jury of their peers think. We will be trying this case in our back yard.”

Colucci and his clients asked for $1.5 million in damages in the suit, which was filed July 1.

According to the lawsuit, when assigned by an English teacher to write a letter to a person he admired, Vaccaro chose Jesus. The boy chose Jesus because he uses his faith to overcome challenges that arise because he is educationally challenged.

However, the teacher told Vaccaro Jesus is not a real person, and he had to write to someone else, the lawsuit states.

Koehler says she protested to school officials, who backed the teacher’s decision.

Vaccaro was forced to miss school and had to seek treatment for depression and other medical problems because of the incident, the lawsuit claims. The filing charges that Vaccaro’s First Amendment rights were violated and that Koehler lost her son’s love and companionship because of the incident.

Koehler said she agreed with Colucci’s decision and added that her fight against the school district is not over. With the school year approaching, she declined to say how her children will receive an education, except to say it will not be in Brookfield.

”I am not sending them to Brookfield to be taught by Satan-led teachers,” Koehler said.

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