Seminole County family demands apology after prayer controversy

5-year-old Carrillon Elementary student says teacher told her not to pray

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – The parents of the 5-year-old who says she was told by a teacher she wasn't allowed to pray at school held a news conference on Tuesday demanding an apology from the Seminole County school for infringing on their daughter's First Amendment right.

Local 6 first reported on Monday night the controversy surrounding the video posted on YouTube by the girl's father, Marco Perez, as 5-year-old Gabriella re-enacted the event. Gabriella described that she was bowing her head to pray at her lunch table when a lunchroom teacher told her she wasn't allowed to.

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The Perez family said the exchange occurred in the lunchroom of Carillon Elementary School in Oviedo around the week of March 10.

The family said on Tuesday they always pray at home before meals and before bed, but didn't know their daughter prayed before lunch at school until the issue came up a few weeks ago.

Marco and Kathy Perez acknowledged that they posted the video on YouTube before reaching out to the principal at Carrillon Elementary. According to school officials, the district looked into the allegations and interviewed the staff, but no one could recollect speaking with the kindergartner.

The Liberty Institute, a legal organization that defends religious freedom, sent a letter to the school district on Tuesday asking for the apology and demanding the district explain what steps it is taking to prevent religious discrimination.

"If this kind of media splash or response could cause that person to pause the next time they're tempted to infringe on another student's First Amendment right, then mission accomplished," Marco Perez said.

The family said the school district should fire the lunchroom monitor who told their daughter to stop praying. Although Gabriella was able to provide her parents with the physical description of the school employee, the family says they have not gotten around to sharing the details with the district.

The family's attorney said that they are "not on a witch hunt."

The Perez family says they had already been contemplating home-schooling and that this incident prompted them to pull their daughter out of public school.

A Seminole County school spokesman said the district doesn't have any policies prohibiting students from praying, as long as it is not disruptive.

The Perez family said they talked to their daughter about the incident a week ago and then 10 days later they brought it up again. They said the details of Gabriella's story remained consistent, so they recorded the video and put it on YouTube.