- On February 4, a 6th-grade student at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida, declined to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, saying he thought it was “racist,” the Washington Post reported.
- Still, a substitute teacher, identified by the Washington Post as Ana Alvarez, questioned his motivations.
- Alvarez and the student entered into a heated dispute, culminating in the boy being sent to the principal’s office.
- The school resource officer made the decision to arrest the student, although the district has since said in a statement that it was not related to his decision not to recite the pledge, but a subsequent dispute.
- By law, students do not lose their First Amendment rights while at school, and are not required to say the pledge.
On February 4, a sixth-grade student at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida, decided not to stand for or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, according to the Washington Post. Following his dispute over the pledge, the student was arrested on suspicion of “creating a disturbance.”
When asked why he was not participating, the student, who has not been identified because he is a minor, told his substitute teacher, identified by the Post as Ana Alvarez, that he believed the pledge is “racist,” according to an affidavit reviewed by the outlet.
Following the student’s dispute with Alvarez, the teacher then sent the student to the school resource officer, according to the Lakeland Police Department.Police said the student had been asked to leave the classroom over 20 times before he went to the office.
As the student was escorted to the office, he “created another disturbance and made threats,” which prompted the school resource officer to call for his arrest, police said.
Both Polk County Public Schools and the Lakeland Police Department stressed that the student was not arrested for not standing for the pledge, but was arrested on suspicion of disrupting a school function and resisting an officer without violence.
“To be clear, the student was NOT arrested for refusing to participate in the pledge; students are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance,” the police department said in a statement. “This arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats, and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom.”
Now, the student’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, is looking to have the charges against her son dropped, she told Bay 9 News.
“I’m upset, I’m angry. I’m hurt,” Talbot said. “Moreso for my son. My son has never been through anything like this. I feel like this should have been handled differently. If any disciplinary action should have been taken, it should have been with the school. He shouldn’t have been arrested.”
She told Bay 9 that she is currently working with the Poor and Minority Justice Association, a non-profit working to end economic and social injustice in Florida and Georgia.
Meanwhile, as the situation gains national attention, the ACLU of Florida has weighed in on Twitter.
“This is outrageous,” the organisation said. “Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates. This is a prime example of the over-policing of black student in school.”
This is outrageous.
Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates. This is a prime example of the over-policing of Black students in school. https://t.co/cSkzWcm33Q
— ACLU of Florida (@ACLUFL) February 16, 2019
In its statement, the school district said the substitute teacher was not aware that students have the right not to participate in the pledge. Alvarez, who was contracted by a third-party service, will not work at the school going forward, the district’s statement said.
“We do not condone the substitute’s behaviour,” the statement said. “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.”
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