University protests have been hotly debated in recent months, but there’s been little talk of students’ right to protest in K-12 schools.
But today, take the time to read an interesting report in The News & Observer about one North Carolina school district’s debate of how it would handle protests like the one that spurred so many headlines last month at East Carolina University.
The debate came about as school board members in Johnston County, a rural district just outside of the Triangle, adopted state-mandated tweaks to the requirement that schools give students the chance to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Students will not be required to participate if they opt out of reciting the pledge.
From the N&O:
In light of East Carolina University marching band members taking a knee during the national anthem, Johnston school leaders wondered how they would respond to similar displays.
“I can see this happening at schools like it’s happened in the university setting,” school board member Keith Branch said. “If you’re a member of the marching band and you’re out there on the field, can the director not require the kids to play during the national anthem instead of just standing there not playing or taking a knee or whatever they’re doing?”
Johnston Superintendent Ross Renfrow, conferring with school system attorney Jimmy Lawrence, said it depends.
“When you’re in school garb, you’re representing the school, whether you’re in a band uniform or basketball uniform, or volleyball,” Ross Renfrow said. “I do know that in the situation in Greenville, those students continued to play even though they were kneeling. They were participating; they were just not participating standing up.”
As much as public protests, some school board members were concerned about indifference toward the pledge or a perceived lack of respect.
As one district administrator cited in the report notes, there’s a balance to be struck for local school districts.
Read on from the N&O:
In accordance with state law, local school board policy states that districts can offer “age-appropriate instruction on the meaning and historic origins of the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.” But Renfrow noted that the schools cannot force students to recite the pledge.
“You cannot require a student to stand and participate, but, depending on what our definition of salute is, I think the majority of students stand and are respectful during the pledge and place their hands over their heart,” Renfrow said.
School system policy has help in encouraging respect for the flag and anthem, Renfrow said. He mentioned a moment at a football game where a principal offered his views to students choosing to sit during the national anthem. In another case, the superintendent said, a middle-schooler kneeling during the pledge was “corrected at home by his parents” once they were made aware of his actions.
“From a school system standpoint, I think that expectation is still there, but we have to temper that with what individuals rights are,” Renfrow said.