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Students sit during the pledge

May 19, 2008

by Roz Kohls

Three eighth graders from western Minnesota were suspended May 8 for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. The school’s handbook said all students at the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High School are required to stand, but not obligated to recite the pledge.

The way school officials reacted has been questioned. Some thought the one-day in-school suspension was too harsh. Even more, the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union said the school’s actions against the students are unconstitutional.

Chuck Samuelson, the civil liberties group executive director, was quoted in the Star Tribune May 9 as saying what the school did was illegal.

“Students who refuse to participate in the pledge cannot be punished for refusing to participate,” according to numerous US Supreme Court rulings since the 1940s, he said.

It’s difficult to judge what happened, because the people involved are juveniles. We’ll never get enough information to be certain.

I wish school officials would have investigated a little more into why this happened, and why it happened on that particular day. The mother of one of the boys said her son hadn’t been standing for the pledge all year. The other two suddenly decided May 8, they wouldn’t stand.

When I was substitute teaching a few years ago, I had a student who wouldn’t stand or recite the pledge because of his religion. According to his religion, making a pledge to an inanimate object, like a flag, was much like idolatry. His parents already had made arrangements with his teacher, in advance, that he wouldn’t be standing or reciting the pledge.

I can understand his viewpoint.

The eighth grader who hadn’t been standing all year might have a logical reason for doing so. At least, his behavior is consistent.

The other two boys, though, could have defied school officials just to be contrary. It wouldn’t be the first time eighth grade boys tried to be smart alecks. Their behavior seems more like old-fashioned rudeness, than a rejection of what the flag represents.

If they had objections to the school’s rules, why didn’t they and their parents say something earlier? Why did they wait until May?

Maybe this whole controversy could have been avoided if school officials first took the time to find out what was going on.