Right or Wrong? Student’s Grade Lowered for Sitting Through Pledge of Allegiance

From Fox News, 9-15-16:

A California high school student is expressing her displeasure after being docked points off of her grade for not standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance.

KXTV reported Thursday that Leilani Thomas has been sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance since the second grade and this was the first time that a teacher had taken action because of it.

The Lower Lake High School teacher docked points off her participation grade for her silent protest.

“She told me I was being disrespectful and I was pretty mad,” Thomas, who is Native American, told the station. “She was being disrespectful to me also, saying I was making bad choices, and I don’t have the choice to sit during the pledge.”

Thomas said that her mom and dad told her what the pledge meant to them and their heritage and decided to sit down.

Konocti School District Superintendent Donna Becnel is sticking up for Leilani and another student who chose to sit during the pledge. She said she’s defending the students’ First Amendment rights.  “They have the same rights when they walk into the schoolhouse that anybody else does.”

Becnel said it’s the district’s policy to support its students’ free speech. Thomas and her friend were able to switch to another teacher after learning about the incident.

Thomas’ protest comes in wake of the firestorm surrounding San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit and kneel during the National Anthem. His protest has sent a ripple effect throughout the professional sports and has trickled down to the high school level.



It’s hard to imagine why a girl of American Indian heritage would choose to sit through the Pledge, but it’s likely because of some distorted values she got from her parents. Much like the stories that some black students are getting from their parents about us being the oppressors because some of our ancestors had slaves, it’s probably our fault because the white man invaded their lands and ran off all the buffalo. Do we ever get the tab paid in full for the actions of our ancestors, or must we continue to pay for generations to come?

That aside, the girl has a right to sit through the Pledge or the national anthem. Disrespectful and disagreeable to some though it may be, it’s called freedom of speech, and should have absolutely zero bearing on her grades. Those grades are supposed to be earned by learning the material and passing tests. If a teacher can’t separate the two issues, then perhaps she’s in the wrong profession.

If more people fully understood the meaning of freedom of speech, they’d know you have to take the bad with the good – otherwise we could have gotten rid of CNN and MSNBC a long time ago. But that’s not how it works. We don’t get to punish people for having wrong opinions on matters – just the wrong facts.

Kids should be graded on merit alone, and if this so bothered the teacher, perhaps she should have taken the girl aside, asked her about it and tried having a discussion that might change her opinion. That’s how it works.


Categories: General, Political

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7 replies

  1. Schools should have rules. These kids are not adults no matter what our culture tells us about them. They are still children. And as such they must follow rules at school. Rules should include decorum with the US flag. Our country has benefitted the American Indian as it has everyone else. Points off her grade? YES! I agree with the teacher. And the admin should have backed up the teacher. This whole thing is part of why public schools are not safe for children.


    • I would agree with you, tannngl, if those rules had been in place before the school year started, or even if she had announced that as of such and such date, standing for the Pledge will be a requirement, but she doesn’t get to change horses in midstream, imo.


  2. I wouldn’t actually advocate this but what if the teacher, in order to make a point to this girl, spent one class day reviewing the atrocities committed by American Indians on non-Indian settlers, and then encouraged those students to show their disapproval of the past savagery by turning their back to this girl? Perhaps a day of listening to true accounts of scalpings, torture, beatings, mutilations, rapes and murders that actually took place could be followed by asking this young girl why, as an American Indian, she should not be held accountable for the behavior of her ancestors. It sure would be interesting to hear her answer.

    I kind of agree about the grade thing Kathy but, strange as this will sound, I find the whole free speech thing in schools problematic. Where does it end? If the principle calls an assembly to address the students, can they refuse to attend, or show up and boo while he speaks in the name of free speech? For me it comes down to a question of whether or not the American flag and the pledge have a legitimate place in our schools, particularly public schools that are tax-payer funded. IMO they do because patriotism and loyalty to one’s country (and therefore the flag that represents it) is essential to a sustainable society. I don’t think a refusal to stand should be reflected in a student’s grade because grades are supposed to be an indication of knowledge and effort; however, I am not opposed to there being a consequence for refusing to stand. Having to abide by a certain decorum at school, work, or any of a multitude of venues does not preclude someone from exercising their free speech on their own time.


    • “I don’t think a refusal to stand should be reflected in a student’s grade because grades are supposed to be an indication of knowledge and effort”

      Not so in this case. Her “PARTICIPATION grade” was docked, and she definitely refused to “participate”.

      I think it’s perfectly appropriate.


    • Except for turning their backs on the girl, I kind of like that idea. It would be good for her to know the whole story and not just the version of history she’s getting at home. That would have been a great opportunity for the teacher to turn this around and make it a learning experience instead of one where the fragile little student gets to move to another class while the teacher gets a reprimand in her file.

      Personally, I agree with your thoughts on the student decorum and the longer we coddle every kid, every special interest group, the 3%ers, etc, the more out of hand it will get.

      I just think in this situation the teacher should have made it clear from the onset or left well enough alone. She needed to clarify the parameters of participation.


  3. I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as that, Kathy.

    It was her “PARTICIPATION grade” that got docked, and by sitting out the pledge she certainly wasn’t “participating”.

    So, yes, she certainly has a right to express her views by refusing to participate, but that doesn’t mean that expression is free of any consequences at all. It seems to me that the consequences were perfectly appropriate and proportional.


    • The teacher isn’t justified in making it part of her grade after allowing her to sit out for the month or so that kids have been back in school. Either it was acceptable from the beginning of the year or it wasn’t, and it should have been addressed then. This kid has been sitting it out since the second grade, so if all of a sudden that’s no longer okay, she needs to know the rules changed.

      Granted there are consequences for everything, and while we may think the teacher’s actions were appropriate, participation pertains to how the students interact in regard to the subject matter in the class – do they raise their hand, are they prepared, do they engage in discussion, etc. It’s a sticky area for both students and teachers and that’s why it’s generally just a portion of their overall grade.

      In this case, it looks to me like the teacher got tired of seeing her sitting there and decided to change the rules midstream. Wrong move on her part as the adult in the room.


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