February 19th, 2019 – “I pledge allegiance to the flag” were not words spoken by one student at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy. The 11-year-old boy was instead arrested after refusing to comply with a substitute teacher’s request to say the Pledge of Allegiance on February 4th.
The Lakeland Police Department and the Polk County Public school system have maintained that the arrest had nothing to do with not saying the pledge but brought about because of the student’s disruptiveness, refusal to follow commands, and threats made against the teacher.
The boy and his mother dispute the allegation of threats and want to re-focus the conversation to the inappropriate way the substitute handled the situation from the beginning.
I read “non-violent resistance.” That’s worthy of arrest? Perhaps the substitute teacher who felt the need to force her anti-first amendment views on the kid should’ve been arrested for disrupting the classroom.
— Ellen Hopkins (@EllenHopkinsLit) February 18, 2019
When Ana Alvarez, the substitute teacher, asked the boy to stand up and say the pledge he refused saying that the flag was racist and the national anthem was offensive to black people.
The ACLU of Florida quickly spoke out about the incident reminding people that students don’t lose their First Amendment rights inside of a school building.
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
Polk County Public Schools spokesman Kyle Kennedy agreed, telling media outlets that students are not required to participate in the pledge. Alvarez didn’t seem to agree that morning and got into a back-and-forth argument with the student.
“Why if it was so bad here did he not go to another place to live,” she told the student per a statement she wrote to the district. “They brought me here,” the boy responded. “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,” she continued to the 11-year-old. “Then I had to call the office because I did not want to continue dealing with him,” she wrote.
Following the arrest, the boy was taken to a juvenile facility and charged with disrupting a school function and resisting arrest without violence. He was also suspended from the middle school for three days.
Dhakira Talbot, the boy’s mother, has spoken out against the aggressive response. She is calling for the charges to be dropped and for the teacher and the school to take responsibility. For their part, the school district has decided that Alvarez will no longer substitute teach at any school in Polk County and that they will reevaluate their training system for substitutes.
“She was wrong. She was way out of place. “If she felt like there was an issue with my son not standing for the flag, she should’ve resolved that in a way different manner than she did,” Talbot said. “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.
What are your thoughts on how the Pledge of Allegiance situation was handled?