Florida sixth-grader arrested
Over Refusal to Recite Pledge of Allegiance
By: Cristal M Clark
Only from Florida would you see a headline like this, a sixth-grader at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida is facing misdemeanor charges after a confrontation with his teacher that began with his refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and escalated into what officials described as disruptive behavior.
In Florida, it is considered “disruptive behavior” when students refuse to stand for what the student considers the racist Pledge of Allegiance. On February 4th the sixth-grader informed the teacher that he thought the flag and the national anthem are “racist” against black people, according to an affidavit. The teacher made the decision to engage the child in what appeared to be a contentious exchange.
Maybe the teacher should be the one facing charges for engaging with a child, children and Donald Trump is a shining example of this, tend to have meltdowns and tantrums, so it’s usually ill advised to engage them in a verbal altercation to prove any point.
“If living in the United States is so bad, why not go to another place to live?” Substitute teacher Ana Alvarez asked the student, according to a handwritten statement from her. Does that not appear to be the teacher acting childish herself here?
“They brought me here,” the boy replied.
Alvarez responded by saying, “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 then called the school office, as she did not want to keep dealing with the student, according to the statement.
Again, and I cannot stress this enough, the boy is in 6th grade, he is technically a child still, so why is it that the teacher who basically started the verbal altercation with the child is facing no charges herself?
Officials said the situation escalated. The student yelled at the administrative dean and a school resource officer with the Lakeland Police Department after they came to the classroom, accusing them of being racist and repeatedly refusing to leave the room. Maybe because the school and its substitute teacher who should not be teaching children backed the boy into an emotional corner.
“Suspend me! I don’t care. This school is racist,” the student, who happens to be African American, told the dean as he walked out of the classroom with his backpack, according to the affidavit.
According to a statement from the Lakeland Police Department, the boy then “created another disturbance and made threats while he was escorted to the office.” He was later charged by police with disruption of a school facility and resisting an officer without violence.
Lakeland police said in the news release that the student was not arrested for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. “This arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom,” police said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida issued a rebuke in the wake of the controversy. “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.”
The 11-year-old boy’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, said that the teacher was wrong and that the school overstepped its authority by punishing her son, who was in fact, taken to a juvenile detention center and also suspended for 3 days after the incident.
“I’m upset, I’m angry. I’m hurt, more so for my son. My son has never been through anything like this.”
“I feel like this should’ve been handled differently. If any disciplinary action should’ve been taken, it should’ve been with the school. He shouldn’t have been arrested.” Talbot said she thought the charges should be dropped and that the school should be held accountable for its handling of the situation.
The affidavit stated that the student threatened to beat the teacher, but Talbot says that her son did no such thing.
In a statement Monday, Polk County Public Schools said the resource officer, not school officials, made the decision to arrest the student.
Students are not required to participate in reciting the pledge by the way, because in case you wondered, the Supreme Court ruled in 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that schools cannot require students to salute the flag or recite the pledge, citing First Amendment rights.
But the substitute teacher was not aware that students are not required to recite the pledge, so again, why is she teaching children? The school district said that officials will look at improving training for substitute teachers and that Alvarez no longer works in the district.
“We do not condone the substitute’s behavior. We respect our students’ right to freedom of expression and we are committed to protecting that critical right while ensuring peaceful classrooms so all students can learn,” the district said.
Cristal M Clark