Florida schoolboy arrested after refusing to recite pledge of allegiance

Florida schoolboy arrested after refusing to recite pledge of allegiance

An 11-year-old Florida boy was arrested this month after a dispute with a substitute teacher over his refusal to participate in the pledge of allegiance at his school, it has emerged.

The student at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida, was arrested on 4 February for creating a disruption in the classroom, police said in a statement.

The incident began when the boy refused to stand up for the pledge, and a substitute teacher insisted he do so, even though students are allowed to opt out of reciting the pledge.

“I’m upset, I’m angry. I’m hurt,” his mother, Dhakira Talbot, told Bay News 9. “More so for my son. My son has never been through anything like this. I feel like this should’ve been handled differently. If any disciplinary action should’ve been taken, it should’ve been with the school. He shouldn’t have been arrested.”

The substitute teacher, Ana Alvarez, called the school’s administration office after arguing with the boy over his refusal to stand, according to apolice report. The boy said he would not stand “because the flag of this country was racist”, and said he considered the national anthem “offensive to black people”, the teacher said in a statement to authorities.

Alvarez responded by asking the child why he didn’t leave the United States if things were so bad, according to her own account. “They brought me here,” said the student, who is black. Alvarez responded: “Well, you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I’m not welcome here any more I would find another place to [live].”

A school resource officer and the school’s dean of students responded, and the child refused to leave the classroom after being asked to leave more than 20 times, according to the police department. He eventually grabbed his backpack and walked out, saying: “Suspend me! I don’t care, this school is racist,” the arresting officer said in his report.

“The student left the classroom and created another disturbance and made threats while he was escorted to the office,” the police statement said.

“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.”

Alvarez was asked to leave after providing her written statement and “will no longer be allowed to work at any of our schools”, the Polk county public schools said in a statement.

The school district’s code of conduct recognizes students’ right to opt out of the pledge of allegiance with permission from a parent. “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,” school officials said.

An attorney for the family will file a civil rights complaint with the Department of Education, he told the Ledger.

The arrest drew widespread condemnation, including from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “This is outrageous,” the ACLU of Florida said in a tweet. “Students do not lose their first amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates. This is a prime example of the over-policing of black students in school.”