Update: Since the publishing of this piece, the ACLU tweeted the following: “The State Attorney for Polk County is not filing charges against the 11-year-old Lakeland student who was arrested after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance…The First Amendment rights of schoolchildren do not cease when class is in session.”
An 11-year-old in Florida was arrested earlier this month for refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, following what school authorities described as disruption to the classroom.
The incident took place on Monday February 4th, the day after the Super Bowl. A substitute teacher was covering the class that day. The 6th grader, who is black, refused to partake in the national anthem, contending that the flag and anthem were symbols of racism. The teacher, Ana Alvarez, told the student that she was from Cuba, and “the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live.” She wielded logic that is often used to shut down people who are critical of the United States: if America is so bad, why don’t you live somewhere else?
Alvarez was unaware that the district does not require its students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and will no longer be allowed to teach at Polk County Schools. The district put out a statement distancing itself from the teacher’s actions and beliefs. However, rather than simply disciplining the student at school — he faces a three-day suspension for the incident — the Lakeland Police was called in to arrest the 11-year-old on the grounds that he was disruptive and resisted his arrested without violence. School officials denied calling for the arrest, having left the decision to the school resource officer.
A Fuller Perspective on the Classroom Altercation
Alvarez’s inappropriate perspective was likely informed by Cuba’s history of repression under the Castro regimes, where to this day the government has tightly controlled personal freedom and progress. Only recently did Cubans get access to Wifi in their homes. It’s also worth considering that substitute teachers get paid only $80 per day, according to the school district’s website.
But this incident was between an adult and a child. Alvarez could have handled the situation in a myriad of ways, even if she disagreed with him. Instead, she shut him down and actually made the situation racist, suggesting that he go back to Africa, according to the Miami Herald.
The student’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, expressed to Bay News 9 her anger and shock over why this situation ended up with an arrest. “My son has never been through anything like this. And I feel like they should’ve handled this differently,” she said. “If any disciplinary action should’ve been taken, it should’ve been with the school.” She added that her son was enrolled in gifted classes at the school.
The ACLU of Florida has weighed in on the incident via social media, declaring that “students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,’” they tweeted. “We must end the policing of black students in schools.”