A seventh grader in the San Jacinto Unified School District in California was reprimanded by his teacher (Mr. Burns) this week after he remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. As usual, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center was on it:
Mr. Burns informed the student, falsely, that the law requires students to stand. Moreover, Mr. Burns questioned the student as to the reason for not participating in the exercise, asking him: “Is it your religion, do you have a personal problem, or do you hate America?” He then proceeded to makes statements obviously intended to pressure the child into participating, suggesting non-participation shows the child is ungrateful for the opportunities America offers and saying he “feels sorry” for the child, as if the child’s stance is pitiable.
That student, 11-year-old Ivan Covarrubias, spoke to local newspaper reporters about what was going through his mind during all of this:
A San Jacinto middle school student said he was “scared” when a teacher admonished him for not standing up during the “Pledge of Allegiance” because it went against his atheist beliefs.
“I was shocked at what he said,” said Ivan Covarrubias, an 11-year-old seventh-grader at Monte Vista Middle School.
It should go without saying, but Ivan did nothing wrong. His teacher, on the other hand, needs a lesson in the Constitution, not to mention how to deal with young students.
What’s more is that the same teacher has a banner in the classroom that reads “Prayer changes things.” The AHA is also asking for the banner to come down. And if you don’t think that’s offensive, let’s see you support a classroom banner that reads, “Prayer won’t change anything.”
Meanwhile, something similar happened in the School District of Lee County in Fort Myers, Florida, where a senior who had multiple reasons to remain seated still faced punishment from his teacher and the administration:
The student in question, currently a senior with a solid academic record and no history of disciplinary problems, does not wish to participate in the Pledge exercise in any manner, for several reasons. For one, he feels that the claim that the nation provides “liberty and justice for all” is simply not true, and thus any participation in the exercise would be hypocritical and insincere on his part. He also identifies as an atheist and feels that the “under God” wording, which was added to the Pledge in the 1950s, does not belong in a government-sponsored school exercise. As such, he recently began sitting out the Pledge, and in fact had no difficulty in doing so for a couple of days with other teachers. However, in the class of Ms. Edlyna Alfaro this morning, the problem erupted due to her actions. He was confronted by Ms. Alfaro in the middle of the exercise as she unleashed a tirade at him. After calling him unpatriotic and disrespectful, she demanded that he stand up or go to in-school suspension, which is a form of punishment.
The student therefore left the room and went to an assistant principal for assistance, expecting that surely the situation could be straightened out by someone who understood student rights, but instead he was given the options of standing up for the exercise, going to in-school suspension, or going home. The student therefore went home.
It’s frustrating-but-somewhat-understandable when a teacher doesn’t know how to handle this situation. It’s not something most teachers learn when getting their certification. But for an administrator to hold the same level of ignorance? That’s just pathetic. They owe this student an apology.
The AHA is also asking both districts to remind staff and administrators what the law says about allowing students to remain seated during the Pledge.
(Image via Shutterstock)