Harrison County

ACLU admonishes Harrison County School Board over Pledge issue

Harrison County School Board
Harrison County School Board wmuller@sunherald.com FILE

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi admonished the Harrison County School Board for disciplining a student who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and then, after the student’s mother complained, resolving the matter behind closed doors rather than during a public session.

The mother of the West Harrison High School student told the Sun Herald that Principal Dana Trochessett threatened the student with demerits and suspension and had him report to the principal’s office rather than his first class during the Pledge. To protect the student’s privacy, the mother asked that neither her nor her son’s name be used.

At an Oct. 24 school board meeting, members entered executive session before discussing the issue and the mother spoke to them behind closed doors. After the meeting, she told the Sun Herald the matter had been resolved.

In a letter sent to School Board President Bill Bradley and Rosemary Aultman, chair of the Mississippi Board of Education, ACLU staff attorneys wrote that the student’s mother wanted to testify in public at the meeting.

“We applaud the school board’s ultimate decision,” the letter said. “However, we are concerned that other schools may be similarly punishing protected student speech, and the lack of transparency in the school board’s process is troubling.”

The letter cited several Supreme Court cases establishing a student’s right to not recite or stand for the Pledge.

In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that students have the right to refuse to salute the flag.

In 1969, the court, in its Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District decision, upheld students’ rights to engage in non-disruptive and silent protest in school.

Students’ rights to not stand for the Pledge were affirmed by the by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Banks v. Bd. of Public Instruction in 1971.

“It is impermissible to force (the student,) or any other student, to leave the classroom during the Pledge for these reasons. Such constitutes unconstitutional retaliation for the exercise of guaranteed free speech rights,” the letter said.

Harrison County Superintendent Roy Gill said the district doesn’t have any policy that forces students to stand during the Pledge.

Regina Zilbermints: 228-896-2340, @RZilbermints