A dispute over a Black 6th grader refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at a Florida middle school is causing fierce reaction.
Reports indicate the incident occurred earlier this month when the student at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Fla., refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, calling the American flag “racist.” A substitute teacher in the class had the boy removed.
The teacher reportedly accused the student of making threats and police were called. The 11-year-old was arrested and charged with causing a disturbance and resisting arrest.
The boy’s mother says her son was unjustly arrested and that detaining him was a violation of his right to free speech.
“What happened that day, my son was doing what I asked him to do,” said Dhakira Talbot in a televised interview. “I told my son that you stand up for yourself. Because in the way this world is today, if you don’t stand up for yourself, no one will.”
Police officials said in a statement the arrest has nothing to do with the student not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance: “The student was arrested after becoming disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions by school staff and law enforcement. This incident followed the daily Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom.
“To be clear, the student was NOT arrested for refusing to participate in the pledge; students are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Unfortunately, a substitute teacher was not aware of this, and she engaged in an exchange of words with the student and called the school’s administration to come to her classroom. The school’s resource officer, who is permanently assigned to the campus, also responded to the substitute’s classroom but was not called by the administration regarding the incident.
“The School Resource Officer made the decision to arrest the student. No one from the school requested charges to be pressed or for an arrest to be made.”
The incident has caused a firestorm with many saying the student had every right not to stand. Officials from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said on social media that the incident highlights the bigger problem about discipline and Black students.
“This is outrageous. Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates,” the organization said. “This is a prime example of the over-policing of Black students in school.”