What went down?
- A 6-year-old boy took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at Wiregrass Elementary School in Wesley Chapel, Florida, on Monday morning.
- The first-grader’s teacher reportedly instructed him to stand.
- The boy’s mother, Eugenia McDowell, received a text message from the teacher that evening, WTVT-TV reported.
- The station said the text read: “I just wanted to let you know that this morning when it was time to do the Pledge of Allegiance [your son] went down on one knee. I know where he had seen it but I did tell him that in the classroom we are learning what it means to be a good citizen, we’re learning about respecting the United States of America and our country symbols, and showing loyalty and patriotism and that we stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I know its a sensitive issue but I wanted to make you aware. Thanks.”
- “She told him right away, based on what he told me, to stand up and to stop it,” the mother told WFTS-TV.
How did the boy’s mother react?
- “He was influenced by what he saw over the weekend, the conversations we were having,” McDowell told WTVT, referring to the multitude of NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem Sunday. “When he demonstrated what he did, he took a knee and he put his hand over his heart.”
- The Tampa Bay Times said McDowell considered the teacher’s response biased, condescending and on the verge of threatening.
- “It immediately caused him to think again about ever expressing himself in a way that would be different than how other people are expressing themselves,” she told WTVT.
- McDowell told the Times that she stresses thinking for yourself, formulating your own opinion and that the teacher “took away [my son’s] potential to do that, if I leave it unaddressed.”
What does Florida law and school district policy say about student participation in the Pledge of Allegiance?
- Florida law allows school districts to request a parent letter excusing their children from participating in the pledge, the Times said, and schools must honor that request.
- Linda Cobbe — Pasco County Schools’ public information officer — told WFTS that state law indicates that even if students are exempted from participating in the pledge “they still have to stand.”
- But Pasco County Schools’ code of conduct says teachers cannot intervene if a student doesn’t participate in the pledge and should instead report it to administrators later, WTVT said.
How did school officials respond to the incident?
- Cobbe told WFTS that state law was followed but it “would have been better if the teacher would have pulled the student aside and talked about it without the other students witnessing it.
- McDowell met Wednesday with the principal, WTVT reported, adding that the teacher didn’t attend the sit-down because she said she felt attacked because McDowell contacted the media.
- McDowell told WTVT her son is being transferred to a different class.
- District officials added to WTVT that the teacher won’t face official disciplinary action and told WFTS they will discuss the policy with parents and staff.
- Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley, who’s also a lawyer, told administrators in a Wednesday memo that “kneeling or other non-disruptive forms of non-participation should generally be considered as permissible alternatives” to traditional participation in the pledge, the Times reported.
- “The biggest takeaway is every voice matters,” McDowell told WTVT. “No matter how big or small … you can make an impact on the world.”
- McDowell plans on singing the national anthem at her older son’s high school football game this week, the Times added.
What are the larger issues?
- The incident demonstrated that the NFL players’ actions have had a broad effect, the WTVT report indicated.
- Frank LoMonte, a First Amendment lawyer with the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, told the Times a crucial question is whether the teacher overstepped her bounds by telling the student that being a good citizen means standing for the pledge.
- LoMonte told the paper that it would constitute “coercion” if the teacher made such comments loudly in front of the entire class, holding the child up to embarrassment and ridicule — particularly when it’s a 6-year-old student as opposed to an older teen.