MCALLEN, TEXAS – A Texas couple claims their daughter’s school district tried to force her to sing the Mexican national anthem and recite that country's pledge of allegiance against her will -- then punished her for standing her ground.
When the teen refused to participate, arguing it was against her beliefs as an American, she was eventually thrown out of the class and then given a failing grade for that day’s assignment, the lawsuit says.
William Brinsdon filed the lawsuit on behalf of his daughter, Brenda. The lawsuit was filed against the McAllen Independent School District as well as Yvette Cavazos, Brenda’s teacher, and Reyna Santos, the principal at Achieve Early College High School.
McAllen is a Texas city of around 130,000 people less than 10 miles from the Mexican border in a region known as the Rio Grande Valley, the deepest part of the Lone Star State with a Mexican-American and immigrant majority population.
According to the lawsuit, Brenda was a sophomore in 2011 when she was asked to recite the Mexican National Anthem during her Spanish class. Brenda, whose mother is Mexican, told Cavazos, her teacher, that it was un-American to pledge an oath to another country.
Cavazos then told her to instead write an essay on the history of the Mexican revolution for the following day.
Brenda, 15, claims in the lawsuit she failed the essay because of her refusal to recite the Mexican pledge of allegiance. Previously, her father said, she was an above-average student. Eventually, she was asked to drop out of the class, according to the lawsuit.
McAllen ISD spokesman Mark May said the district’s legal counsel is reviewing the lawsuit.
“Just to be clear, all students in our district recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America every morning of every school day,” May said.
He said the class assignment was in no way designed to show patriotism to a foreign country, but was in fact a single cultural awareness assignment in an advanced Spanish-language class.
The Brinsdon family at could not be reached for comment.
This is not the first lawsuit involving how patriotism should be handled in the classroom. In June of last year, a teenager and her mother, Carolyn Raja, and the American Civil Liberties Union took on the Brownsville, Texas, school district after the student was forced to stand during the U.S. pledge of allegiance.
In that case, Judge Mark Hornak ruled that students have a constitutional right to pass on reciting the pledge. Coincidentally, some states, such as Michigan, have passed laws requiring students to pledge allegiance to the flag each day.
In the McAllen case, the school allows students to opt out of the pledge of allegiance. Whether the school retaliated against Brenda for opting out of the Mexican anthem is still unclear.
Her father claimed in the lawsuit that Brenda was kicked out of the class and then given a failing grade. This was a violation of her constitutional right to free speech, according to the suit.
“She spent the class hour in the school’s office, even though she requested to return to the classroom,” the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Brinsdon, argued in the lawsuit. “Brenda was also given a failing grade on her report card, which was later corrected.”
"While the initial intent of exposing students to the elements of a different culture was a noble and well intentioned one," said Francisco Martinez, an English teacher in McAllen.."The apparent retaliation seemed petty in nature."
Ildefonso Ortiz is a freelance writer based in McAllen, Texas.