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Verdicts & Settlements

Connecticut Settlement Shows Schools Can’t Get Pledge of Allegiance Rights Right

— February 21, 2019

Even though students can’t legally be compelled to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, districts across the country keep punishing students for exercising their rights.

A Connecticut school district has settled with the family of a girl who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Associated Press reports that a teacher publicly shamed the teenage girl and several of her classmates for opting out of the daily rite.

But on Tuesday, the Waterbury Board of Education and the teacher agreed to settle. The federal-level lawsuit was dismissed on February 9th, following officials’ promises that students don’t have to take part in the pledge if they don’t want to.

The Board also agreed to pay the girl’s legal fees, which the A.P. says weren’t publicly disclosed.

While the unnamed African-American student refused to stand, citing her First Amendment rights, the settlement isn’t likely to dissuade similar clashes between educators and their wards.

Earlier in the month, a Florida student faced far more serious consequences for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

According to CNN, a substitute teacher called local police after the Lawton Chiles Middle Academy student said he thought the pledge was racist.

The substitute—apparently unaware of district policy encouraging pupils to dissent if they felt so inclined—wrote in a statement that the student, who is black, said “that he won’t stand because the flag of the country is racist. He then started to explain why the national anthem was offensive to black people.”

Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.
Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.

Following a heated exchange between the substitute and student, the teacher phoned into the administration office and summoned a school resource officer.

“We do not condone the substitute’s behavior,” the district said in a statement. “We respect our students’ right to freedom of expression and we are committed to protecting that critical right while ensuring peaceful classrooms so all students can learn.”

CNN says an administrator and school resource officer both asked the student to leave the classroom.

Unfortunately, the sixth grader refused, purportedly creating another “disturbance” and making threats as he was taken out of class and to an office.

In exchange for exercising his rights, the boy was arrested for ‘disrupting a school function’ and resisting an officer.

He was later taken to the Lakeland, FL, Juvenile Assessment Center.

Roderick Ford, an attorney for the boy and his mother, say he plans to file a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

Ford says the substitute’s harsh reaction left enough impression on the student’s family that he felt compelled to change schools; he’s now enrolled at a private academy. He also claims that details from the police report misconstrue reality and position the youth as more confrontational than he really was.

Ford told CNN that the student never used the word “racist” in defending his decision to stand down from the Pledge.

The boy’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, told a local news station that she can’t understand why the substitute teacher escalated the situation.

“I’m upset, I’m angry. I’m hurt,” Talbot told Spectrum Bay News 9, adding that her son is in gifted classes and had been bullied by other students at Lawton Chiles. “More so for my son. My son has never been through anything like this. And I feel like they should’ve handled this differently.”

“If any disciplinary action should’ve been taken, it should been with the school,” she added.

The American Civil Liberties Union also commented on the case, saying the boy’s arrest exemplifies the “over-policing of Black students in school.”

The ACLU notes on its Oregon webpage that federal law gives students the right to refuse to stand, recite or otherwise participate in pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the country for which it stands.

While the district immediately canned the substitute and prohibited her from working at any of its facilities ever again, the Lakeland Police Department insist their arrest of an 11-year old was just.

“This arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats and resisting the officer’s effort to leave the classroom,” Lakeland police said.


The debate over the Pledge of Allegiance

Florida student arrested for disturbance after he refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance

Students can skip Pledge of Allegiance, school district says


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