Middle School Student Arrested After Refusing to Recite Pledge of Allegiance

An 11-year-old boy was arrested for not following orders and “causing a disruption” when he refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in class.

On Feb. 4, substitute teacher, Ana Alvarez, at Lawton Chiles Middle School, asked the students in her class to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. The school located in Lakeland, a suburb outside of Tampa.

A sixth-grader refused to stand. He said the U.S. flag is racist, and the National Anthem was offensive to Black people, so he couldn’t recite Pledge of Allegiance.

Alvarez, who is from Cuba, said in a statement to the district, she told the student, “Why if it was so bad here he did not go to another place to live.” She said he then said, “they brought me here.”

“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 replied to the student.

The student remained steadfast in his refusal to stand and recite the pledge and she called the front office because “she didn’t want to keep dealing with him,” according to her statement.

Although Alvarez emigrated to this country, she was ignorant of the fact that students aren’t required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, according to a Florida State Statute.

The law states 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, including standing and placing the right hand over his or her heart.”

He didn’t have to recite the pledge, per the U.S. Supreme Court, which established the ruling in 1943 with the West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette case. The Court decided that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects students from being forced to salute the American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance in public school.

In essence, the teacher violated his constitutional rights as well a Florida State statute.

Charged With Two Misdemeanors

The child began to cry when a school resource officer showed up to remove him from the class. It’s important to clarify that a school resource officer is a law enforcement agent who only works in schools.

The boy didn’t want to leave with a school resource officer and dean, so he was arrested. He was then taken to juvenile detention, and charged with two misdemeanors for allegedly disrupting a school function and resisting arrest without violence. All of which he had the right to do.

The Polk County school district’s spokesperson said that the student was arrested for allegedly being “disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions,” not because he refused to recite the pledge. The school also suspended him for three days.

Lakeland Police Department didn’t comment on the arrest due to the student “being a minor.”

However, Public Information Officer Gary Gross confirmed that officers would not arrest a student for not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. A student would be arrested for screaming, yelling and making threats. The arrest affidavit incredulously cited that the boy “threatened the teacher.”

Dhakira Talbot, the boy’s mother, commented on the teacher’s actions, the wrongful arrest and the situation, in general.

“She was wrong,” Talbot told Bay News 9. 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.”

Kyle Kennedy, a spokesman for the school district, confirmed that students are not required to recite the pledge. He also stated that Alvarez can no longer work in the school district.

“Our HR department will contact Kelly Services, which provides our substitutes, to further refine how our substitutes are trained,” Kennedy said.

Substitute teachers in Polk County aren’t required to be certified or licensed by the state or the school district. They are supposed to be well-informed of the district’s policies and procedures. She clearly wasn’t. Not only that, but substitute teachers don’t work for the district directly. They are outsourced by Kelly Services at an $80 per diem rate.

Polk County Public Schools said they would be reviewing their training policy with the agency.

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