September 20, 2019

Trinity Baptist School suspends student for essay

Jonathan Oblak banned for remainder of school year

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Richmond resident Jonathan Oblak, 17, was suspended from Williston’s Trinity Baptist School for the remainder of the school year following an essay he wrote that criticized the school’s dress and conduct codes. (Photo courtesy Sylvia Oblak)

Brock and Sylvia Oblak were shocked when they received the news that their son, Jonathan, had been suspended from Trinity Baptist School in Williston for the remainder of the school year for writing an essay that criticized the school’s rules.

The decision to suspend the 17-year-old Richmond resident, based on a persuasive essay he submitted to his 11th grade English teacher on March 7, was unanimously rendered by the school’s eight-member board on the evening of March 11.

“We feel that in this instance the punishment was extraordinarily harsh,” said Sylvia Oblak. “We are asking (the school board) to rescind the decision and to expunge this from his academic record.”

Jonathan Oblak said he was initially hurt by the decision of the school board.

“At first I was kind of offended and kind of hurt, but then as thought about it more I realized that my school didn’t kick me out, it was the school board,” he said. “The students … many of them have told me that I’m their hero and that they’re proud of me and that they totally agree with the paper.”

Oblak’s essay, reproduced in full on an anonymously created Facebook page titled, “Do Right Trinity Baptist Church and School,” criticizes the private school’s dress and conduct codes, deeming them outmoded and arbitrary.

“Here at Trinity we have many rules in place that are totally subjective,” Oblak wrote. “In the rulebook it states that students are expected to refrain from ‘inappropriate speech.’ It doesn’t say what speech is inappropriate, it doesn’t give a verse reference in the Bible that we can refer to.”

He continued: “Another undefined and baseless rule in the rulebook is the issuing of demerits for ‘inappropriate literature.’ Once again we have a dilemma where one thing may be completely harmless for one to read or (sic) while for another, it may be sinful, for whatever reason.”

Oblak concluded his essay by suggesting that a wholesale revision of Trinity rules be undertaken.

“The rules at Trinity need to change from being so subjective and smothering. … Many students do not actually want to be in the school because of the sheer number of rules and the subjective rules that are rarely backed by the Bible,” he wrote.

Sylvia Oblak said that after repeated requests for a written explanation of the suspension from the school’s administration, she and her husband received a letter via email from Pastor Darrin Forehand, which she in turn uploaded to Facebook.

“The reasons that brought us to this conclusion were more than simply the persuasive essay that Johnny turned in (sic) English class,” the letter reads. “By Johnny’s own admission … he displayed a rebellious spirit for most of the school year and did not want to be a student at TBS.”

Forehand’s letter further states: “The dress code and other guidelines which we have in our handbook are not meant to be a benchmark for godliness or a standard by which to judge a person. They are simply in place to provide a safe and orderly environment and to create an atmosphere which we believe is conducive to discipling the hearts of our students towards Christlikeness.”

Forehand, who serves as both superintendent of Trinity Baptist School and senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, declined to be interviewed, other than to refer to the letter as his official response.

Sylvia Oblak acknowledged that her son had received six behavioral demerits over the course of the school year for offences other than tardiness, but she said she never received calls from his teachers and doesn’t think his punishment is justified by his behavior.

She said that he will complete the current school year through the Trinity Baptist School’s at-home distance learning program and that after he turns 18 this summer he will be free to choose where he wants to attend school for his senior year.

Jonathan Oblak said that while he is undecided where he will attend school next year, returning to Trinity is not an option.

“I do know that I don’t want to go back to Trinity,” he said. “It would just be awkward.”

While the school has seen a flood of criticism from many of the Facebook page’s 114 followers, Jennifer Anair – who has four children at Trinity – told the Observer that the positive aspects of the school shouldn’t be overlooked.

“We are a wonderful, loving school with lots of freedoms, but I do understand that there will be once in a while the disgruntled student that hates the dress code and that doesn’t like not being able to swear, and so I can understand why he would be upset about certain rules, but I’m sure we’re not the only private school that has ever had this issue,” Anair said.

Sylvia Oblak, who said her 8-year-old daughter will continue to attend the Trinity school, also had positive things to say about the church and school communities.

“It is not our intent to harm this school or this ministry,” she said. “These are people we love. I believe these are good men who made a bad decision.”

Following the school board’s decision, Sylvia and Brock Oblak sent a letter to Forehand on March 18, requesting that the board expunge the disciplinary action from their son’s academic record.

Forehand responded to Sylvia Oblak via email on March 21, stating: “The decision was not unjust and our decision remains the same. If you want to communicate further I will be glad to meet with you and Brock personally.”

Although Sylvia Oblak is not seeking to have her son reinstated at the school, she said she is worried about the precedent the board’s decision will set.

“I’m just afraid that this sends a clear message to the students that you don’t work through problems – you get rid of them,” she said.

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Jon’s Essay entitled “Trinity Rules”

by Do Right Trinity Baptist Church and School (Williston, VT) on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 11:23 p.m. 

Rules have been a part of life since the beginning of time. God first told Adam and Eve that they were not to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil. There were about eight books that held the Egyptian legal code. Emperor Justinian I of the Romans wrote the Corpus Juris Civilis. In colonial times, criminal codes, punishments, and courts varied from colony to colony. In modern times there are many laws that govern everything from speeding to what you can share on the internet (In Ancient Egypt… 1, Ancient Roman Laws 1, Colonial Williamsburg 1). These days there is no tree that God has forbidden us from. The Egyptians are no longer killing people just for stealing a simple object. The Romans fell and then their conquerors made laws to govern them. The colonies united, but the laws still differ state to state. Laws and rules change as time progresses because the mindset against those actions changes. Either they became socially acceptable or the next generations didn’t see those actions as wrong. There is no need for God to forbid any of us from eating from a specific tree anymore and the Romans didn’t even have electricity so telling them they can’t share files online is preposterous. Telling the Egyptians that they can’t listen to their ipods in school makes no sense just as many of the rules for Trinity Baptist students are old and unnecessary and don’t apply any longer. What may have been considered scandalous in the 1960s is now the social norm with this younger generation. The rules should change from being subjective, by changing based on how the teacher is feeling that day, being from the late 20th century, and being overbearing and stifling to the students. The rules should change to conform to what is acceptable in the 21st century, to being objective so the rules don’t change if the teacher likes one over another, and to letting the students here show a bit of their own personality and not being forced to look like the next kid. The rules at Trinity need to change from being subjective and very oppressing and stifling towards the students.

Here at Trinity we have many rules in place that are totally subjective. In the rulebook it states that students are expected to refrain from “inappropriate speech.” It doesn’t say what speech is inappropriate, it doesn’t give a verse reference in the Bible that we can refer to. The rule makers just expect us to understand. This means that if a student was brought up being taught that the word “darn” is ok, but a teacher thinks that that specific word is wrong, the student may get demerits because the teacher was taught or believes something different. Another rule from the rulebook is “Any other offence that might injure the reputation of the school.” If I drive two miles an hour over the speed limit, I am disobeying the state law.  Since God does not have any one sin be more important or damning than another, this means that my speeding could be looked at the same as stealing a piece of gum, or robbing a bank. Seeing that God does not differentiate between sins by calling one more offensive than another, how can we start to decide where the line is for the seriousness of any offence? Technically then, my robbing a bank and speeding by two miles per hour both would injure school’s reputation.

Another undefined and baseless rule in the rulebook is the issuing of demerits for “inappropriate literature.” Once again we have a dilemma where one thing may be completely harmless for one to read or while for another, it may be sinful, for whatever reason. Who is to say besides God what is acceptable and appropriate for an entire body of students, all who have had different experiences in their lives and probably would disagree on what is sinful for them to read. A similar example is demerits for “unacceptable music.” The only thing the rulebook has to say about music is “…music must agree with the principle of God’s Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit.” The Bible really only says in a roundabout way that music should honor Him. Somehow drums became associated with sinful music and therefore were outlawed. Drums have become a symbol of worldly music and sinners. However, we are commanded to “Praise him upon the loud cymbals; Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.” (Psalm 150:5) About “the leading of the Holy Spirit,” the Holy Spirit leads different people in very different directions. If He didn’t, we all would be lead to be missionaries or pastors. Again, who are we to act as God and tell a body of students that only specific music is allowed, when they may have been led by the Holy Spirit to believe that some other kind of music is ok and not sinful?

Yet another example of a subjective rule in the rulebook is “Students are expected to avoid types of clothing that particularly identify with the world.” This is completely subjective and ridiculous seeing that clothing originated with God, when He gave Adam and Eve the animal skins to wear in the Garden of Eden. It is also nonsensical because there are hundreds of thousands of articles of clothing being worn by the “world” that a student may be wearing. Baseball caps are perhaps the most easily recognizable article of clothing. On April 24, 1849, The New York Knickerbockers constructed the prototypes of the baseball cap (History of the Baseball Cap 1). The Knickerbockers was hardly the world’s leading Christian Enterprise. Billions of these caps have been manufactured and sold, mostly to the “world.” Yet every pastor at Trinity has owned and worn a baseball cap. What exactly is a type of clothing that was not created and is manufactured by someone “of the world?” What exactly makes it more wrong than a baseball cap?

The last example is “No outside clothing is to be worn during the day…” This means in school, during the school day. However, no definition of what clothing this includes. No list of forbidden materials is given, just that it is forbidden. In fact, if an “outside coat” (made of a soft, stainless polyester material) is turned inside out so that the fleece lining (complete with the tag now on the outside) is on the outside, the coat may be worn, even though it does not look half as good as the way the coat was meant to be worn. This makes no sense, and it is not even what the rulebook says, it is only what one teacher decided one day. Unfortunately, with many rules at trinity just like this one, what may not be allowed one day may be allowed the next.

The rules at Trinity need to change from being so subjective and smothering.  The students are being forced to resemble clones in an effort to make sure that the students are modest and have no resemblance to the “world.” Students are required to wear a “TBS embroidered shirt.” These shirts are exactly the same except for color (which there are only about five colors) making one student closely resemble the next. The male students are required to be “clean-shaven with side-burns no longer than the opening of the ear.”  This is to “prepare the students for the business world.” However, many businessmen that are very well off have facial hair. Many even have beards which is the epitome of facial hair. Neither the students nor their parents have any say in the matter of what rules are in place at TBS. Many students feel smothered and even oppressed by the number of rules and how they change day to day. Many students do not actually want to be in the school because of the sheer number of rules and the subjective rules that are rarely backed by the Bible.

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Pastor Forehand’s letter to Jon’s parents

Brock and Sylvia,

On Sunday night, March 11, the School Board of Trinity Baptist Church unanimously voted to suspend Johnny Oblak for the remainder of the school year and to offer a distance learning option as much as we are able to help him finish his academic school year. The choice to offer distance learning was made due to our desire to be gracious to him, but we concluded it would not be in the best interests of the student body to allow Johnny to continue as a student.

The reasons that brought us to this conclusion were more than simply the persuasive essay that Johnny turned in English class. By Johnny’s own admission he did not want to attend TBS from the beginning of the school year. But the administration, genuinely wanting to minister to him and your family, allowed him to attend. I say that for a reason . . . the heart of the men on the school board was one of graciousness and genuine love for Johnny. They wanted to help your family. But by Johnny’s own admission, he displayed a rebellious spirit for most of the school year and did not want to be a student at TBS. He would openly challenge both teachers and guidelines. Dr. K and the school board have consistently extended patience even though his influence towards the other students was contradictory to what we desire to accomplish in their lives.

Brock and Sylvia, every institution has guidelines, and each institution chooses guidelines for various reasons. The dress code and other guidelines which we have in our handbook are not meant to be a benchmark for godliness or a standard by which to judge a person. They are simply in place to provide a safe and orderly environment and to create an atmosphere which we believe is conducive to discipling the hearts of our students towards Christlikeness. We do not claim that the guidelines at TBS are inspired or can never be changed. But we must insist that the present guidelines be obeyed and a submissive spirit be communicated. That is the heart beat of biblical submission to authorities which reflects a submission to our Lord Jesus. There are proper ways to engage authorities in civil dialogue for positive change, but Johnny has consistently not done this and has sought to undermine the authorities of our school and has influenced others in the same direction.

It was for all of those reasons the school board concluded it best to suspend Johnny for the remainder of the year. But even then, a gracious offer was extended to Johnny to have him finish as much of his work as possible via distance learning at home. The school board was not obligated to offer this but wanted to communicate our desire to see him finish this year as easily as possible.

Brock and Sylvia, you know we are not just a school board and parents but church members who worship together. Like I told you and Brock last Saturday morning while we talked in my office, we want to reach Johnny’s heart for the Lord Jesus and have a burden for Johnny to be more involved in our church life such as our teen Sunday School and youth group. This would be a great avenue for him to consistently fellowship with other Christian teens and “renew his mind with the Word”- Rom. 12:2.

Last Saturday morning I offered to meet with you again to help you through this difficult time, and I still desire to do that if you would like. Please allow your church family the privilege of coming alongside and helping you disciple Johnny for the Lord. We are not trying to judge you, Johnny or anyone else in your family but want to help you.

In Christian Love,
Pastor Forehand


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