The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas has settled a lawsuit brought against it by a student who was punished after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. What that means in practice, however, is still up in the air.
The case involved 17-year-old India Landry who, in October of 2017, was expelled from Windfern High School because she wouldn’t stand for the Pledge.
A federal lawsuit was filed later that month and the details were almost too farfetched to be believable, but the story went like this: India had sat during the Pledge for personal reasons “around 200 times in class” without incident. But that day, she happened to be in the office of Principal Martha Strothers when the Pledge came over the public address system. She stayed seated. Then all hell broke loose.
Principal Strother upon seeing this immediately expelled [India] from school saying “Well you’re kicked outta here.” Assisatnt [sic] Principal Fitt then gave [mother] Kizzy Landry fiveminutes [sic] to pick up [India] or the police would escort here [sic] out of the school.
The lawsuit also noted that things didn’t get any better when she was awaiting her ride home in Assistant Principal Penny Irwin-Fitt‘s office.
Principal Fitt told India to call her mother to come pick her up and if your mom does not get her in five minutes an officer will escort you from the building. [Secretary] Mrs. Walters said, “This is not the NFL.” Ms. Fitt said India was going to stand for the pledge like the other African-American in her class.
Days later, during a meeting between everyone involved, nothing got resolved:
Principal Strother suggested that India write about justice and African Americans being killed. Ms. Strother then said the meeting is over and if India does not stand for the pledge she cannot return to Windfern.
It was only after a local news station aired a story about the “Pledge controversy” that Strother called the family to say India could return to school. She did just that — after the Pledge was recited — but had every intention of remaining seated the following week.
A spokesperson for the District later rejected all of these claims, saying the officials would never do anything like this, but they added that under Texas law, students were required to stand for the Pledge unless they had a note from their parents.
That last bit was still illegal. Nobody needs a note from their parents to remain seated during the Pledge. Yet Section 25.082 of the Texas Education Code says just that. (India’s mother was going to write a note on her behalf… but said it became a moot issue after India was kicked out.)
In short, Texas wanted to force children to stand up and say the Pledge as a matter of forced patriotism (talk about an oxymoron) unless parents said it was okay for their kids to opt out. That is blatantly unconstitutional — it violates the spirit and laws regarding free speech and peaceful dissent.
Students don’t have to stand for the Pledge.
Students don’t have to say the Pledge.
Students don’t need to give a reason for refusing to take part in the mindless ritual.
Students can’t be punished by their public schools for not participating.
And students sure as hell don’t need their parents’ permission for any of this.
To be clear, the Texas law says, “On written request from a student’s parent or guardian, a school district or open-enrollment charter school shall excuse the student from reciting a pledge of allegiance under Subsection (b).” Depending on how you interpret that, while a note from a parent can get you out of saying the Pledge, it’s not necessary. Students are allowed to make the decision for themselves. But the way Paxton seems to be interpreting it, standing for the Pledge is required.
(Incidentally, a similar case in Florida went in favor of the students. It struck down a state law that required students to stand and recite the Pledge.)
That brings us to this week’s update for this case. On Thursday, a judge ruled that the case involving the Landrys and the school district (and everyone who works there) had been settled, so he was dismissing the case with prejudice. It’s over.
However, the ongoing case involving the legality of the Texas Education Code regarding this issue is still being fought.
A statement issued Friday by [the Landrys’] lawyer Randall Kallinen said: “A confidential settlement was reached, however, embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton remains as counsel for defendant State of Texas in an effort to retain the statute in the face of Free Speech arguments and law.”
So what does all of this mean for the school district?
According to the Houston Chronicle, while the case has been settled, the terms are confidential, and the district has not said students can remain seated during the Pledge. The district is basically saying it’ll do whatever state law tells them to do, and Ken Paxton is arguing that state law requires students to stand for the Pledge unless they have a note from parents.
That’s illegal. Ken Paxton doesn’t know that, but good lawyers do. Let’s hope a judge eventually says that, so no other student ever has to go through what India dealt with.
(Screenshot via KHOU. Large portions of this article were published earlier)