A Florida elementary school teacher was suspended for attempting to make a student say the Pledge of Allegiance on Sept. 11, the anniversary of four coordinated Islamic terrorist attacks on the United States.
The fracas occurred at Explorer K-8 School in Spring Hill, a Tampa suburb, reports The Tampa Tribune.
An investigation conducted by the school district concluded that the teacher, Anne Daigle-McDonald, seized the student’s wrist and ordered him to place his hand over his heart and participate in the expression of patriotism.
The unidentified student is a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The millenarian Christian denomination forbids adherents from worshipping objects, such as flags. The report said the boy stood during the pledge but refused to speak the words or place his hand over his heart.
“You are an American, and you are supposed to salute the flag,” Daigle-McDonald said, according to the boy.
She then made a general statement to the entire class, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
“In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can’t do the pledge,” the teacher said, according to corroborated reports of several students. “If you can’t put your hand on your heart, then you need to move out of the country.”
On Sept. 12, school officials placed Daigle-McDonald on alternative assignment, notes the Tribune. (It’s not clear how long this went on.)
On Oct. 7, local school district superintendent Lori Romano suspended Daigle-McDonald for five days without pay and ordered her to complete a diversity training course.
The investigation of the incident concluded that the teacher had violated state education and professional conduct rules as well as the student’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.
A 1943 Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, held that the Constitution protects students who don’t want to salute the American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. That case also involved the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In a conference with school officials, Daigle-McDonald indicated her desire to apologize to the boy’s family, reports the Times. She also told her side of the story.
“His mother told me that he didn’t celebrate holidays or birthdays, and I told her that was fine,” Daigle-McDonald said.
She explained that she was worried that other students might emulate his silent, hands-down behavior during the pledge.
“I just wanted all of the students to respect the day,” Daigle-McDonald added. “It wasn’t a holiday, so I didn’t see why the whole class couldn’t say the pledge.”