On Monday, in Pasco County, Florida, a six-year-old boy, inspired by watching NFL football, got a lesson in civics after he took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Eugenia McDowell, the mother of the Wiregrass Elementary School student, was contacted by the teacher with a text message, reading:
I just wanted to let you know that this morning when it was time to do the Pledge of Allegiance [your son] went down on one knee. I know where he had seen it but I did tell him that in the classroom we are learning what it means to be a good citizen we’re learning about respecting the United States of America and our country symbols and showing loyalty and patriotism and that we stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I know its a sensitive issue but I wanted to make you aware. Thanks.
McDowell then went on the warpath, contacting the media about the incident. She emailed the school requesting a meeting with the principal. She later recalled:
In my email, I wrote we may have to consider changing his classroom. I wasn’t ready to make that decision until a discussion with them [the school principal and teacher] took place. I wanted an apology to my son in the same manner that she called him out for kneeling. I also wanted to know if she would be remorseful. If she demonstrated that, then I would have been OK with him remaining in her class.
McDowell met with the principal on Wednesday but sans the teacher, prompting McDowell to accuse the teacher of avoiding the meeting because the teacher felt McDowell attacked her in the media. A school spokesperson said the reason for the teacher’s absence was that she had not been invited by the principal.
McDowell defended her son to Fox 13, insisting, “He was influenced by what he saw over the weekend, the conversations we were having. When he demonstrated what he did, he took a knee and he put his hand over his heart.” She took issue with the text message sent by the teacher, asserting, “It immediately caused him to think again about ever expressing himself in a way that would be different than how other people are expressing themselves.”
McDowell told ABC, “What he did was have a difference of opinion. He was not being disrespectful. He was silently protesting and exercising his constitutional right. My concern is she infringe upon his constitutional right to express himself, to protest peacefully, and she also made him feel like his decision to come up with his own opinion about things was the wrong thing to do.”
Pasco County Schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe told ABC, “Our policy — and state law, for that matter — requires that a parent submit a request in writing that their student be exempted from participating in the pledge.” She added McDowell didn’t submit a letter to the school, and that if she did, the student would have been exempt, adding, “If he had that exemption, nothing would have been said. Students could stand, students could kneel; they don’t have to put their hand on their heart. They just have to be respectful of the students who are participating.”
McDowell said the school and the teacher agreed with her that her son should be in a different class. She concluded, “We are no longer going be silenced, our voices will be heard, and our little black boys that sit in classrooms today, not just my son but every other child that looks like him, they are not going to be silenced.”