ACLU: Girl didn't need to stand for pledge
Family, ACLU seek apology from school officials
This story was corrected on Feb. 25, 2010. An explanation follows the story.
A Roberto Clemente Middle School teacher shouted at a 13-year-old girl and had her escorted by security officers to the principal's office after she refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance for personal reasons, the girl's mother and an American Civil Liberties Union attorney said Tuesday.
Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said the teacher violated state law and school system policy by ordering the student to stand.
"That's a violation of our regulations, and we're in the process of rectifying the situation," Tofig said.
The eighth-grade student will receive an apology from the teacher, he said. Tofig said he could not comment on whether the teacher or any administrators or other staff members will be disciplined because it is a personnel issue and that he did not know what other measures would be taken besides having the teacher apologize.
Under a 1943 Supreme Court decision, students do not have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag.
On Jan. 27, the student, now 14, remained seated during the school's daily recitation of the pledge, her mother said. The mother and the ACLU declined to identify the girl, saying she was deeply embarrassed by the event and was humiliated by fellow students in her classroom after the teacher told her she was required by law to stand. The mother also declined to give her name.
The ACLU and the mother as well as the school spokesman also declined to identify the teacher.
The girl did not stand for a personal reason and not a political one, her mother said.
Regardless of the reason, the Constitution, state law and the county's handbook are clear that students do not have to stand for the pledge, according to the attorney for the ACLU who is representing the girl.
"The law is crystal-clear that a public school cannot embarrass or harass a student for maintaining a respectful silence during the Pledge of Allegiance," said Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney for the ACLU of Maryland.
"While expression of patriotism in unsettling times is a worthy and admirable emotion, the Supreme Court says that patriotism is best honored by venerating the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution and not by punishing or ridiculing those whose views might differ from our own."
After the teacher demanded that the girl stand and she declined, he ordered her to leave the classroom, Quereshi said. In the hallway, the teacher threatened her with detention and sent her to the counselor's office. The next day the student again refused to stand, and the teacher had two school security officers escort her to the principal's office, Quereshi said.
When the mother called the school for help with the teacher's behavior, an acting principal, Carrie Reed, told her that her daughter should apologize for her defiance to the teacher, the girl's mother said. The girl had apologized twice, her mother said. Reed did not return calls for comment.
Under an 1871 Maryland Court of Appeals decision, students and teachers cannot be compelled to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The county's own student handbook also states that students cannot be required to say the pledge.
"No one will be permitted to intentionally embarrass you if you choose not to participate," according to the handbook.
Bob Ouellette, commander of the American Legion Post 295 which serves Germantown, said the pledge is important, but he did not take a position on whether the girl should have stood or not. As part of its mission, the American Legion issues information on proper flag etiquette.
"As veterans, we served so that Americans have freedom of speech and a free society," Ouellette said when called Tuesday. "We believe that the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star-Spangled Banner' are an integral part of keeping our society free. It serves to remind individual citizens of their duties to ensure liberty and justice for all."
The girl has stayed home from the school since the end of January because she felt humiliated by the teacher, her mother said. Other students called her daughter "stupid" after the teacher told her she was required by law to recite the pledge, the mother said.
"My daughter loves school," her mother said. "All of her teachers tell me how wonderful of a student she is, how her manners are well mannered. They enjoy having her in her classes."
After Reed told her that her daughter should apologize and not the teacher, the mother contacted the ACLU for help. On Feb. 6, the ACLU wrote a letter to the school system seeking an apology and an explanation to the girl's classmates to ease the girl's return. An attorney for the school system responded that the school officials would not meet with the mother if she had ACLU attorneys present, Quereshi said.
A Pledge of Allegiance issue arises about once or twice a year at schools across the state, but in every case in the past, the school system has quickly resolved the issue, said ACLU spokeswoman Meredith Curtis.
Tofig, the school system spokesman, said he was not aware whether school officials refused to meet with the girl if an ACLU lawyer was present and therefore could not comment.
But her mother said the way the teacher "bellowed" at her daughter was inappropriate under any circumstance, and school officials should have acted.
"It's an even bigger problem because he did it to a child in front of a group of other children," the mother said. "On top of that, the school didn't protect her. I thought they would protect her, and that's why I let her go to that school. I was disappointed."
Staff writer Meghan Tierney contributed to this report.
Due to an error by the ACLU, the story originally reported the girl was escorted to the principal's office by police officers. She was escorted by the school's security officers.