A sixth grader exercising his freedom of speech was arrested by Florida police after they say he became disruptive
An 11-year-old was arrested for becoming disruptive in school, following an argument with a substitute teacher regarding his right to skip the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, the child’s family is fighting to have charges dropped, while the school has said that the sub will no longer work for the district.
According to CNN, the incident took place on Monday, February 4, at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida. A substitute teacher was leading the class in the Pledge of Allegiance when one student, who was black, declined to participate.
Although there is no policy that students have to recite the pledge, the teacher asked the student why he declined.
The student’s lawyer, Roderick Ford reported that the substitute overreacted, as did the police. He also said that the student’s rights were violated and he was wrongfully arrested.
According the lawyer, after the student declined to participate, “The substitute teacher then says, ‘If you don’t like it here, go back to where you came from.’ And he said ‘Do you mean Africa?’ And she says, ‘Yes,'” Ford said. “The young man then says, ‘You are our teacher you should not be talking to students this way.'”
The teacher wrote in a statement that when she questioned him, the student “answered that he won’t because the flag of the country is racist. He then started to explain why the national anthem was offensive to black people.”
She said she replied, “Why if it was so bad here he did not go to another place to live.”
She said he then said, “they brought me here.”
She replied, “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.”
At this point, the teacher called the office, and a school resource officer responded. When he refused to leave the classroom, and then was disruptive outside of the classroom, he was arrested by Lakeland Police for disrupting a school function and resisting an officer without violence.
He was then transported to the Juvenile Assessment Center.
The school was clear that they sided with both the student’s right to sit out of the pledge as well as the importance of a peaceful learning environment.
“We do not condone the substitute’s behavior,” the district said in a statement. “We respect our students’ right to freedom of expression and we are committed to protecting that critical right while ensuring peaceful classrooms so all students can learn.”
The school also stated that the substitute was asked to leave the campus immediately and will no longer work in the school district – and that they did not give any orders to have the student arrested for the incident.
The child’s mom, Dhakira Talbot, was extremely upset that her son had been arrested after his choice to sit out of the pledge was escalated by the sub. She explained that her son is in gifted classes – and that he’d been bullied in the past.
“I’m upset, I’m angry. I’m hurt,” she told Spectrum Bay News 9. “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.”
“She was wrong. She was way out of place,” Talbot said. “If she felt like there was an issue with my son not standing for the flag, she should’ve resolved that in a way different manner than she did. I want the charges dropped and I want the school to be held accountable for what happened because it shouldn’t have been handled the way it was handled.”
Online, groups like the ACLU called it like they saw it: another example of the over-policing of black students in schools – and a violation of First Amendment rights.
This isn’t the first Pledge of Allegiance controversy to spring out of Florida in recent years. In 2016, a school went viral on social media for giving parents the option of having their kids opt out of the tradition.