Child charged over Pledge of Allegiance
A student from a Tampa suburb is facing misdemeanor charges after an apparent confrontation with his teacher who wanted him to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
The 11-year-old refused to recite the pledge, telling his teacher that he believes the flag is racist and America's national anthem is offensive to black people, according to a Bay News 9 report that cited a statement the teacher gave to district officials. The teacher, who was substituting at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida, then had what appeared to be a contentious exchange with the sixth-grader.
If living in the United States "was so bad," why not go to another place to live? the teacher asked the student, according to the statement cited by Bay News 9.
"They brought me here," the boy replied.
The teacher responded by saying, "Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I'm not welcome here anymore I would find another place to live."
The teacher said in the statement that she called the district office because she did not want to keep dealing with the student, Bay News 9 reported.
The student was later charged with disruption of a school facility and resisting an officer without violence, Gary Gross, a spokesman for the Lakeland Police Department, told The Washington Post. Gross said the agency can't release further information because the student is a minor.
The Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem have been an increased source of tension after critics, including President Donald Trump, denounced former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the anthem, an act to protest racial injustice and police brutality. But many also followed Kaepernick's lead and defended his right to free speech and to protest.
In 2017, a black student was expelled from her Houston high school for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. India Landry's silent protest prompted a lengthy legal battle in federal court, with the teen's family accusing the school of violating her free speech rights. Last year, the Texas attorney general intervened and defended a state law requiring students to recite the pledge.
In the Florida school, district spokesman Kyle Kennedy told the Ledger that the student was arrested for being "disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions" from an officer and school officials - and not for refusing to recite the pledge. Doing so is voluntary, Kennedy said. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that schools cannot require students to salute the flag or recite the pledge, citing First Amendment rights.
But the substitute teacher, whom district officials identified as Ana Alvarez, was not aware that the school does not require students to recite the pledge, the Ledger reported. Kennedy, who did not respond to requests for comment Sunday, added that officials will look at improving training for substitute teachers and that Alvarez no longer works at the district.
The student's mother, Dhakira Talbot, was not immediately available for comment Sunday, but she told Bay News 9 that the teacher was wrong and the school overstepped its authority by taking her son to a juvenile detention center. The child was suspended for three days following the Feb. 4 incident.
"I'm upset, I'm angry. I'm hurt. More so for my son. My son has never been through anything like this. I feel like this should've been handled differently," Talbot told the TV station, adding: "I want the charges dropped and I want the school to be held accountable for what happened because it shouldn't have been handled the way it was handled."
An arrest affidavit cited by Bay News 9 says that the student repeatedly called school officials racist and threatened to beat the teacher. Talbot denied those accusations.
Kennedy declined to discuss the student's discipline with local media outlets.