A Florida elementary school is under fire from one parent who says her son -- who knelt during his class’s Pledge of Allegiance -- was scolded and stripped of his First Amendment rights.
Eugenia McDowell’s son, a 6-year-old student at Wiregrass Elementary School in Pasco County, took a knee during his classroom’s Pledge of Allegiance on Monday, one day after hundreds of NFL players knelt or stood and linked arms following President Trump’s criticism of players who protest during "The Star-Spangled Banner."
“He was influenced by what he saw over the weekend, the conversations we were having,” McDowell told FOX13 of her son’s actions. “When he demonstrated what he did, he took a knee and he put his hand over his heart.”
When the boy’s teacher saw him kneeling, she reportedly mouthed the words, “We stand for the pledge,” according to ABC News.
The teacher then reportedly sent McDowell a lengthy text message explaining she told her son to stand because students in her class are being taught “what it means to be a good citizen.”
“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,” the alleged text message read.
“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 said the message didn't sit well with her.
“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,” she said.
According to the school district’s code of conduct, students have “the right to decide whether or not to participate in symbolic (e.g., flag salute) or religious activities,” but a spokesperson for Pasco County schools said a student abstaining from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance must have a written note from a parent saying they may do so.
“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,” spokeswoman Linda Cobbe told ABC.
Cobbe said that McDowell -- who says she didn’t know her son was going to kneel -- didn’t submit a letter to the school, and that if she did, the student would have been exempt and the situation would’ve been handled differently.
“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," Cobbe said.
But McDowell doubled down, and said her son was “exercising his constitutional right.”
“What he did was have a difference of opinion. He was not being disrespectful. He was silently protesting and exercising his constitutional right," McDowell told ABC. "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."
McDowell’s son has since been transferred to a different class.