Students, parents, teachers and school staff in Santa RosaCounty may have noticed signs posted near the American flag, stating “Students are invited to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our country, but they are not required to do so.” These signs were posted in classrooms throughout the county following an agreement between the Santa RosaCountySchool District and the civil rights organization, American Atheists. However, county school officials said the process of reciting the pledge will not change.
The agreement between both parties occurred following an incident at HobbsMiddle School in early September in which an autistic student was allegedly forced to stand and participate in the pledge during class. The student complied at the request in fear of angering the teacher, according to a press release posted on Atheists.org.
After learning about the incident from the child, the parents contacted the school district on the matter and were initially told current state law required student to stand for the pledge.
The current edition of the SRCSD Code of Student Conduct states, “The pledge shall be rendered by students standing and placing their right hand over their heart. Upon written request from his or her parent, a student must be excused from reciting the pledge. When the pledge is given or the national anthem is played, all civilians (including students) must show full respect to the flag by standing at attention.”
However, the parents of the student contacted Amanda Knief, the director of the of legal and public policy for the American Atheists organization.
“We were concerned that the school district did not clearly understand the law,” Knief said. “(The student) wanted to sit and complied (to the teacher)…that is not respecting the rights of students.”
Knief said the issue was never with the Pledge of Allegiance itself, but advocating for the rights of students.
“You can still be respectful by sitting and being quiet,” Knief said. “This does not make them anti-American, it makes them a citizen for exercising their rights.”
Florida State Statute 1003 section 44 states, “Each student shall be informed by posting a notice in a conspicuous place that the student has the right not to participate in reciting the pledge. Upon written request by his or her parent, the student must be excused from reciting the pledge.”
The action has come with scrutiny from the community, some of the negative comments can be found on the atheist.org website. However, this is type of reaction is expected when individual rights are discussed, according to Knief, who hopes a majority of the “people will be respective of individual rights.”
While the district’s current code of student conduct will not be changed until the next school year, Director of Middle Schools Bob Gunter said both sides came to an agreement on the signs which were to emailed to each school this week.
“It will be posted in the classroom and it will be addressed in the code of conduct (for next year),” Gunter said.
Like Knief, Gunter said the action will no way restrict schools from conducting the Pledge of Allegiance.
“The students will still be led in the pledge everyday. That process is not going to change,” he said.