WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board dropped a proposal to expand which students are allowed to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The change would have allowed students to refuse to say the pledge for personal as well as religious reasons. Currently, the only allowable reason is due to religious beliefs.
School attorneys, the superintendent and the school policy committee recommended the change.
“It’s an appropriate policy as it is, and if there are families or students who have concerns with the current policy…they’re not required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and we think that’s sufficient policy,” said chairman Donny Lambeth after Tuesday’s meeting.
School system officials took up the issue after a high school student decided not to stand during the pledge but was told by his teacher that he had to stand.
The student’s parent contacted the school, and the teacher responded that skipping the pledge is disrespectful to the flag and the freedoms it stands for.
Michael Kent Curtis, Wake Forest law professor, said higher courts have ruled many times that freedom of speech outweighs forcing students to say the pledge.
“They don’t understand that the true patriotism in our country is protecting free speech rights for everybody, including dissidents. That’s what makes us such a great country,” Curtis said.
Only one person, Vietnam veteran Walter Emory, spoke out about the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I can understand some people with beliefs of not wanting to support the flag either by issue or by not being a citizen of the United States, but I would like to see that it stay in the school system,” Emory said.
Theo Helm with WSFCS said before the meeting that the changes would not have meant ending the pledge before the school day or taking the flags out of classrooms.
“We still think the pledge is a vital part of education, but we do have to balance that with what courts have ruled as protected first amendment rights,” Helm said.
Another reason school attorneys gave for the proposal is that the system hasn’t received a question about the policy in several years.