"Bless you" causes controversy at Tennessee high school

Saying "bless you" to a fellow student after a sneeze was enough to get a Tennessee high schooler in trouble on Monday.

Kendra Turner, 17, told the Dyersbug State Gazette the phrase was on a list of things students were not allowed to say in that class, including "my bad," ''hang out," ''dumb," ''stupid" and "stuff."

But the utterance got Turner sent to the principal's office for an in-school suspension (ISS), where she remained until it was time to go to her next class. But that's spouted a mist of controversy since.

"If a teacher asks his or her students to do something reasonable to avoid a distraction in the classroom, then we expect the students to follow the rules," Dyer County High School Assistant Principal Lynn Garner said. "If it's not a reasonable request, then we'll sit down and talk about it to get it right."

He added teachers can set their own classroom rules as long as they are reasonable.

After she responded "bless you" to the sneeze, Turner said the teacher stood up and asked who had spoken.

"She asked why I said it, and I told her I was being courteous, and she asked me who told me that it was courtesy?" Turner said. "I told her my pastor and my parents taught me to say it."

She took the issue to Becky Winegardner, youth pastor at Dyersburg First Assembly of God church, who told CBS affiliate WTVF that other students had similar issues with the teacher's rules.

"There were several students that were talking about this particular faculty member there that was very demeaning to them in regards to their faith," she said.

Turner held a news conference on Tuesday at the church to talk about the incident.

"I want God to be able to be talked about in school," she said. "I want them to realize that God is in control and they're not."

Turner also said she did not want the teacher who punished her to be "bashed" because "that's kind of harmful and disrespectful."

Dyer County Sheriff's Department officials have reportedly increased their presence at the school because of the controversy surrounding the incident, but to what extent is unclear. A message was left by CBS News to officials there, but had not been returned.

Garner would not discuss the specifics of the case, but said the incident had been blown out of proportion on social media.

"In this case, this was not a religious issue at all, but more of an issue the teacher felt was a distraction in her class," he said.