An 11-year-old Florida student was arrested last week and charged with a misdemeanor after exchanging words with a teacher who took issue with the child’s refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. The Lawton Chiles Middle Academy sixth-grader told substitute teacher, Ana Alvarez, that he would not stand because the flag and the national anthem were “racist” against black people.
According Bay 9 News, the teacher then seemed to escalate the situation by asking the child why he didn’t go somewhere else if America was so bad.
The student responded saying, “They brought me here.”
Then, Alvarez—again, the adult here—told the 11-year-old, “Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore I would find another place to live.”
According to the Washington Post, Alvarez then called the school district office and the student responded to the dean who told him to leave the room, saying, “Suspend me! I don’t care. This school is racist,” as he left.
The Lakeland Police Department released a statement making it clear that the student was not arrested for refusing to stand for the the Pledge of Allegiance, but “for Disrupting a School Function and Resisting Officer Without Violence.”
The boy’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, later told Bay News 9, “I’m upset, I’m angry. I’m hurt. 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 American Civil Liberties Union of Florida responded to the incident tweeting, “This is outrageous. 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.”
This is outrageous.
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. https://t.co/cSkzWcm33Q
— ACLU of Florida (@ACLUFL) February 16, 2019
According to a statement released by the school district, the “substitute teacher was asked to leave campus immediately” and “will no longer be allowed to work at any of our schools.” The statement also said that Alvarez was not aware that students were not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in a 1943 decision that schools cannot mandate that students recite the pledge or stand for the flag because it would violate their rights under the First Amendment.