A middle school student in Lakeland, Florida, was arrested after refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Bay News 9 reports the arrested 11-year-old is a 6th grader at Lakeland’s Lawton Chiles Middle Academy. On February 4, he allegedly told his substitute teacher he didn’t want to stand and recite the pledge with his classmates because he sees the oath and flag as racist symbols.
As The Washington Post notes, the Pledge of Allegiance was created by a racist nativist to sell U.S. flags to schools. It gained popularity as a way to celebrate Christopher Columbus’ conquest of Native Americans.
In her statement to the Polk County School District, Ana Alvarez, the substitute teacher, said she asked the boy why he has chosen to remain in the U.S. if it is a racist place.
The boy’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, says her son told her Alvarez was a bit more pointed, WTSP reports.
“She told my son to go back to his homeland,” Talbot said. “He was confused. He said, ‘What do you mean? Africa?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’"
Alvarez’s report on the incident states the 6th grader told her he can’t go back to Africa because “They brought me here.”
The substitute claims she then told the boy, “Well you can always go back,” and called the office.
What happened next is a little unclear; a school resource officer and a dean reportedly arrived at the classroom. The boy’s arrest records claim he refused to go to the office and says he began yelling, “I'm going to beat that teacher," and "I'm going to get all of you fired" while accusing school officials of being racist.
Talbot doesn’t believe the report, feeling the allegations it includes aren’t consistent with her son’s character. She said her son has repeatedly denied threatening any violence; the boy also denied issuing any threats when speaking with a Bay News reporter.
Whether threats were leveled, the school resource officer decided to arrest the 11-year-old, restraining him and taking him to a juvenile detention center.
The police report notes the student was arrested for "disrupting a school function" and "resisting officer without violence," according to BuzzFeed News.
In a statement on the incident, the school district placed the blame for the arrest at the hands of the resource officer, writing, "No one from the school requested charges to be pressed or for an arrest to be made.”
A spokesperson for the Lakeland Police Department added, "To be clear, the student was NOT arrested for refusing to participate in the pledge."
The police also said, “This arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom."
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Talbot doesn’t believe the arrest should have ever happened. “He was being treated like he did something wrong when he's the victim,” she said.
It is important to note Polk County Schools policy states students do not have to stand for the pledge if they don’t want to do so. Talbot’s son has abstained from saying the pledge under this aegis for some time. Alvarez, who works for a staffing company hired by the district to provide subs, was not told about this policy before being placed in the classroom.
“We do not condone the substitute’s behavior," the school district said. "We respect our students’ right to freedom of expression."
The district announced it plans to work with the staffing company to develop new training for its substitutes and said Alvarez will no longer be allowed to teach in any Polk County public school.
All of this is too little, too late for Talbot.
“The sub will never teach again, but look at the impact it's had on my son,” the mother said.
In addition to being arrested, the student received a three-day suspension. His mother has transferred him to a new school and is currently working to have his arrest expunged from his record.
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