To be clear, in 1943 the United States Supreme Court ruled that students could not be coerced into saying the pledge of allegiance, the daily morning exercise that takes place in school. Fresh challenges have led succeeding courts to uphold this ruling.

From Tampa comes the story of a sixth-grade student who was confronted by a substitute teacher for not standing and reciting the pledge. After an argument with the teacher ended, the substitute called the district office to report the situation because she did not want to continue dealing with the now angry 11-year-old.

Before we move on with the story, let’s linger on that point. Whatever happened were the actions of a child.

Reports and social media debates seem to ignore this very important point: it was a child. Why do we expect an 11-year-old to respond and behave like an adult?

Later, the student was arrested on a charge of disrupting the classroom. However, with the admission that none of us knows all the details, it is reasonable to wonder who was doing the disrupting? GOT could argue that it was the teacher choosing to confront a child over a refusal to stand who initiated and therefore is responsible for what ensued.

All because the child was exercising his constitutional right.

Story Quote: In the Florida school, district spokesman Kyle Kennedy told the Ledger that the student was arrested for being “disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions” from an officer and school officials – and not for refusing to recite the pledge. Doing so is voluntary, Kennedy said. In fact, 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. (Emphasis mine.)

Does refusing to follow repeated instructions include those of the teacher to stand? Does it mean the child was so angry that he shut down? Out of anger, he said some things he didn’t really mean?

We don’t know the details, but hopefully, we can recognize that a minor situation got way out of hand because of the actions of the adults.

Many do not understand restorative practices and why they are important for schools as an alternative to traditional discipline.

But if you take the time to read the story, you realize that the conflict resulted from a failure to understand the point of view of another.

Restorative practices looks at the harm done to others and asks that persons take responsibility and repair the harm. It does not seek to assess guilt and punish.

If I was the principal of the school, I would seek to use a restorative circle after meeting with the parties individually. I would ask them to voluntarily participate so the following questions could be asked:

  • In your view, what happened?
  • What were you thinking at the time?
  • How were you feeling?
  • What could have gone differently?
  • What impact has this had on you and others?
  • What do you think needs to be done to make this right?

The substitute needs to hear from the student and his family what their experiences have been and why they may not feel the same way as the teacher does about reciting the pledge. It would be useful for the student and family to hear from the teacher why she reacted the way she did.

We know that the student’s rights were violated and that the substitute was wrong in what she demanded. That’s not the point of a restorative circle. The point is to repair the harm that was done so that all can rejoin the school community with a feeling of belonging, support, and trust.

A restorative circle could eliminate the need for punitive actions such as arrest for the child and dismissal for the substitute.

That’s why it’s a better way.

Read the story here (one of many media versions circulating.)

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