The controversy over professional athletes and the national anthem could be coming to the school near you.
Already, several school districts are reminding staff about the student code of conduct, and what's expected of students during the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem.
In fact, to hear it from Eugenia McDowell, the issue already here. Her son, a first grader at Wiregrass Elementary, decided to take a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance Monday, following what he had seen on TV this past weekend.
But McDowell didn’t think that was the real issue.
“The real issue,” she said regarding her son’s teacher, “is you violated his constitutional rights to express himself, and made him feel like he did something wrong when he didn't.”
McDowell was angered by a text message from her son's teacher, informing her that she’d instructed the child stand up for the pledge, calling it disrespectful to do otherwise.
“Why is it okay for her to express her personal opinion about what it means to be a good citizen? This is what you put in writing to me?” she said.
In Pasco County Schools, the code of conduct says parents can request an exemption from their child's participation in the pledge or the national anthem - in writing. McDowell had submitted no such request.
However, the code also says that teachers should not coerce children to participate, which is what the boy’s teacher appeared to have done, say school officials.
“It was not in compliance with school board policy,” said Pasco School District Spokesperson Linda Cobbe.
Cobbe says in this case, the teacher has been reminded of district policy, which suggests teachers wait to discuss the issue with the administrator, and ultimately the child’s parent.
“Our recommendation is that they let it go, and then at some point during the day when it's convenient, they let the principal know so that the principal can talk to the parent,” said Cobbe.
In Manatee County, the issue is apparently on their minds too.
With varsity sports about to start up, district principals received an email this week reviewing their student code of conduct. Athletic directors were also reminded that student participation in the pledge and the national anthem is required without a written exemption from the student's parent.
But with codes of conduct varying from district to district, how many parents or students actually know the rules?
“None of the students are aware of that stuff, because they don't read it,” said student Ivan Costa.
In part, that’s why school officials expect the controversy could soon move from the gridiron into in your student's classroom. If it does, they recommend parents treating it as a teachable moment.
“This is an opportunity to educate students about freedom of speech, about respecting other people's views,” said Cobbe.
McDowell agrees the discussion needs to move beyond kneeling.
“That's my issue. And we're not talking about that,” she said. “I'm talking about that. And they're talking about standing.”
Florida law allows each school district to form its own policy when it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem through their codes of student conduct. To review the code of conduct in your child’s school district look here:
School districts and codes of conduct
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