Mother Says First Grader Was Forced to Stand After Kneeling During the Pledge at School

Last week, a six-year-old boy in Florida was made to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance at Wiregrass Elementary School when he wanted to kneel.

The boy’s mother, Eugenia McDowell, told ABC that when her son knelt down, his teacher immediately told him to rise. McDowell received a text message from his teacher last Monday after the incident took place. The message read, “I just wanted to let you know that this morning when it was time to do the Pledge of Allegiance, (your son) went down on one knee. I knew where he had seen it but I did tell him that in the classroom we are learning what it means to be a good citizen we’re learning about respecting the United States of America and our country symbols and showing loyalty and patriotism and that we stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I know its a sensitive issue but I wanted to make you aware. Thanks”

McDowell believes that the situation could have been handled differently, saying that the decision made by the teacher was one that was meant to silence him. Though, spokesperson Linda Cobbe of the Pasco County School District said there was a way to avoid the situation.

According to Cobbe, silent protests aren’t interrupted when a note is given to the teacher from a child’s parent specifying their decision to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance. In an interview with ABC, Cobbe said, “Our policy — and state law, for that matter — requires that a parent submit a request in writing that their student is exempted from participating in the pledge.”

Following the incident, McDowell emailed the school requesting a meeting with the principal and the teacher. She wanted an apology for the treatment of her son and wanted to see if his teacher was remorseful. “If she demonstrated [remorse], then I would have been okay with him remaining in her class.”

However, Cobbe confirmed to ABC that McDowell’s son has already been moved to another classroom.

McDowell said her son and “every other child that looks like him” will not be silenced. She believes that his silent protest was not disrespectful as he was only stating his opinion. “He was silently protesting and exercising his constitutional right,” she told ABC. “My concern is she infringed upon his constitutional right to express himself, to protest peacefully, and she also made him feel like his decision to come up with his own opinion about things was the wrong thing to do.”

The protesting made headlines in early September of 2017 when the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, knelt during the American national anthem as a way to protest the racial discrimination in the country. 49ers safety, Eric Reid, joined Kaepernick while linebacker, Eli Harold, stood and held up his right fist. Safety for the Arizona Cardinals, Antoine Bethea also held up his first in early September.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of color,” Kaepernick said in a press conference. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave, and getting away with murder.”

News of the protesting soon made its way to other teams.

The New York Times reported that to date in the season, dozens of players from the 49ers are still kneeling. Some members of the New York Giants knelt during the anthem while others linked arms. Members from the Buffalo Bills also knelt while last week the Tennessee Titans remained in their locker room during the anthem. Other teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys stood during the anthem.

The protesting has stretched into other schools across America as well. In Louisiana, the principal of Parkway High School sent out a letter warning student-athletes and their parents that if students are not standing during the anthem they risk being removed from their teams or having less time on the field.

On October 1, CNN reported that two Texas teenagers were removed from their team for kneeling during the anthem. A St. Louis news station reported that a football team of eight-year-old boys asked their coach if they could kneel during the anthem. The coach allowed them to do so as long as they understood the reasoning behind it. The children knew why and knelt during the anthem, facing away from the flag.

TIME reported last month that Brennan Gilmore tweeted a photo of his grandfather, John Middlemas, on September 24 kneeling in support of the protests. Middlemas is a 97-year-old WWII veteran who said: “those kids have every right to protest.”

Gilmore tweeted, “Grandpa has been an ally to the civil rights movement for many years. He’s an amazing man always on the side of justice.” The tweet has hundreds of thousands of likes and over 100,000 retweets.

Though not everyone believes in kneeling during the anthem, McDowell said she hopes her meeting with her son’s principal will allow the school to welcome students to protest and express their opinions.

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