Thursday, February 25, 2010

To Stand or Not To Stand, That is the Question...

ACLU: Girl didn't need to stand for pledge
Family, ACLU seek apology from school officials

A Roberto Clemente Middle School teacher shouted at a 13-year-old girl and had her escorted by police officers to the principal's office after she refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance for personal reasons, the girl's mother and an American Civil Liberties Union attorney said Tuesday.

Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said the teacher violated state law and school system policy by ordering the student to stand.

"That's a violation of our regulations, and we're in the process of rectifying the situation," Tofig said.

The eighth-grade student will receive an apology from the teacher, he said. Tofig said he could not comment on whether the teacher or any administrators or other staff members will be disciplined because it is a personnel issue and that he did not know what other measures would be taken besides having the teacher apologize.

Under a 1943 Supreme Court decision, students do not have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag.

On Jan. 27, the student, now 14, remained seated during the school's daily recitation of the pledge, her mother said. The mother and the ACLU declined to identify the girl, saying she was deeply embarrassed by the event and was humiliated by fellow students in her classroom after the teacher told her she was required by law to stand. The mother also declined to give her name.

The ACLU and the mother as well as the school spokesman also declined to identify the teacher.

The girl did not stand for a personal reason and not a political one, her mother said.

Regardless of the reason, the Constitution, state law and the county's handbook are clear that students do not have to stand for the pledge, according to the attorney for the ACLU who is representing the girl.

"The law is crystal-clear that a public school cannot embarrass or harass a student for maintaining a respectful silence during the Pledge of Allegiance," said Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney for the ACLU of Maryland.

"While expression of patriotism in unsettling times is a worthy and admirable emotion, the Supreme Court says that patriotism is best honored by venerating the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution and not by punishing or ridiculing those whose views might differ from our own."

After the teacher demanded that the girl stand and she declined, he ordered her to leave the classroom, Quereshi said. In the hallway, the teacher threatened her with detention and sent her to the counselor's office. The next day the student again refused to stand, and the teacher had two school police officers escort her to the principal's office, Quereshi said.

When the mother called the school for help with the teacher's behavior, an acting principal, Carrie Reed, told her that her daughter should apologize for her defiance to the teacher, the girl's mother said. The girl had apologized twice, her mother said. Reed did not return calls for comment.

Under an 1871 Maryland Court of Appeals decision, students and teachers cannot be compelled to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The county's own student handbook also states that students cannot be required to say the pledge.

"No one will be permitted to intentionally embarrass you if you choose not to participate," according to the handbook.

Bob Ouellette, commander of the American Legion Post 295 which serves Germantown, said the pledge is important, but he did not take a position on whether the girl should have stood or not. As part of its mission, the American Legion issues information on proper flag etiquette.

"As veterans, we served so that Americans have freedom of speech and a free society," Ouellette said when called Tuesday. "We believe that the Pledge of Allegiance and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner' are an integral part of keeping our society free. It serves to remind individual citizens of their duties to ensure liberty and justice for all."

The girl has stayed home from the school since the end of January because she felt humiliated by the teacher, her mother said. Other students called her daughter "stupid" after the teacher told her she was required by law to recite the pledge, the mother said.

"My daughter loves school," her mother said. "All of her teachers tell me how wonderful of a student she is, how her manners are well mannered. They enjoy having her in her classes."

After Reed told her that her daughter should apologize and not the teacher, the mother contacted the ACLU for help. On Feb. 6, the ACLU wrote a letter to the school system seeking an apology and an explanation to the girl's classmates to ease the girl's return. An attorney for the school system responded that the school officials would not meet with the mother if she had ACLU attorneys present, Quereshi said.

A Pledge of Allegiance issue arises about once or twice a year at schools across the state, but in every case in the past, the school system has quickly resolved the issue, said ACLU spokeswoman Meredith Curtis.

Tofig, the school system spokesman, said he was not aware whether school officials refused to meet with the girl if an ACLU lawyer was present and therefore could not comment.

But her mother said the way the teacher "bellowed" at her daughter was inappropriate under any circumstance, and school officials should have acted.

"It's an even bigger problem because he did it to a child in front of a group of other children," the mother said. "On top of that, the school didn't protect her. I thought they would protect her, and that's why I let her go to that school. I was disappointed." Staff writer Meghan Tierney contributed to this report.

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I've known and respected Bob Ouellette for many years. He was an AirmanMom guest blogger, last year. His quote, "We believe that the Pledge of Allegiance and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner' are an integral part of keeping our society free. It serves to remind individual citizens of their duties to ensure liberty and justice for all." says it all!

Roberto Clemente Middle School is a nearby school; this article hit close to home so it was a must-share item! What are your thoughts?


MRMacrum said...

The law was clearly violated. The student's rights were clearly violated. Seems to me there is no controversey here.

Bob was probably smart to duck the issue in his capacity as head of the local American Legion. This was a situation that was between the teacher/school and the student/family.

Bag Blog said...

I think the situation was mishandled big time, which leads me to believe one of two things: either the student is not the model student her mother thinks that she is and has had problems with this teacher before or the teacher is a wacko that needs to be gone. Maybe they both were just having a bad day and things went awry.

AirmanMom said...

mrmacrum...I thank you for stopping by. You are correct, this student's rights were violated. I am responding on an emotional, not a legal level. It is our soldiers who have given us all our freedoms; including the freedom to show no respect for our Flag, our National Anthem and Our Pledge. Should the child have been pulled out of the classroom???legally the answer is no. As a Patriotic American, my heart says YES!

Anonymous said...

Agreed AirmanMom.
The legal infringement is clear, but what kind of Americans aren't teaching their children to respect the flag these days?

I feel that the mother was also acting out more emotionally and acting on the fact that her daughter got scolded and was embarrassed, rather than looking at the big picture.
Now it seems that the overreaction of the teacher and the mother are going to have negative effects for quite sometime when this child thinks about her experience with the pledge.

It's a shame that as Americans, we have such freedoms but little to no respect for our freedoms. I have seen this in many different examples and it's always been something that gets to me.

MRMacrum said...

Airman Mom - My father, a career Air Force officer, had an interesting notion of why he spent his life serving his country. When all the protests of the 60's and 70's were in full swing, I asked him what he thought of them. His answer went something like this - When I see see people in the streets exercising their rights under the Constitution, it reinforces why I do what I do. I serve to protect those rights. If the day comes when they can't protest, it will be a sad day for our country.

He was a hard core conservative and understood that individual rights are the cornerstone of our country.

As an American, I would have just called her stupid and let her be.

Love Letters to an American Soldier - The big picture? Well let's just say I don't think it relies on whether someone stands and recites the Pledge of Allegiance. It rests on our ability as a nation to allow people to live as unimpeded as possible. My country is not a flag. It is you. It is me. It is all the millions of citizens found inside our borders. They are who I owe allegiance to.

I will agree though that too many Americans do not respect our freedoms. I see the attacks coming from both sides of the aisle and it makes me sad.

Coffeypot said...

I think the teacher should be shot at sunrise. Seriously, she is in the wrong, though her motives were for respect of the flag, the Nation and the alegiance. But the girl has the right to her beliefs and I appluade her for not giving in. But I hate the ACLU and all it stands for, and any attorney could have handled it just as smoothly. I hope she goes back to school with her head held hight.

christian soldier said...

remember-the re-writing of US history has been going on for a loooooong time-even George Washington has bee expunged from our public school texts...
the girl is just acting upon her training -probably much of it from a liberal-progressive home environment ...

AirmanMom said...

love letters... thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter. It's a subject which definitely has legal lines which should not be crossed, but then there are those heart strings.....

AirmanMom said...

mrmacrum...I wish to thank your dad (along with your entire family) for his service to our nation.
I've been glued to the Olympics for the past 2 weeks...and my heart swells with pride every time our flag is raised and our anthem plays. But that's me. And that is how I raised my children. We are proud of our Nation, and we will gladly show respect for the piece of cloth which has some stars and stripes sewn on it and a song, which few people can actually sing beautifully. Any representation of of the land I love, will be shown my respect. Like I said, that's me. I realize it is not everyone in our country, and would be a sad day for any of our freedoms to be lost!
I do appreciate your visits to my blog!

AirmanMom said...

coffeypot...Your words are greatly appreciated!!!

AirmanMom said...

c-cs....times they are a changing.... will the pendulum ever swing back to the days of Flags waving at every home and mom at home baking apple pie? Doubt it.
My concern is for this 'entitlement' generation which is walking among us, which appears to have a lack of respect for how they have gained the freedoms they live. Then again...I have no doubt these are the fears voiced of previous generations. Ahhhh...looks as though I am developing a new post :)
Thanks for your words!

AirmanMom said...

bag blog...perhaps it was a bad day. None of us were present in the room at the time, so we go by the accounts of others. If nothing else, it was a learning experience for many!!!

Anonymous said...

Great post, AirmanMom!

Reply: MRMacrum,

Thank you, but you misunderstood me. By "big picture" I meant in the context of the child's future, not the big picture as in: whether or not an American citizen should be required to stand for the pledge of allegiance.
I have always felt that these rights are the very basic ones which should be protected and exercised, whether or not we necessarily like or agree with them.
My personal thoughts are that everyone should feel some respect for our flag, but it is obviously their right if they chose not to do so.