Found this via Creative Minority Report:
Brookline — A Brookline public school is bringing back the Pledge of Allegiance next month — and the principal is asking parents to fill out permission slips before their children participate.
“It’s uncomfortable. The pledge is a promise, and I’ve always taught my kids to think very carefully before making any promise. It’s not a decision I want to make for them,” said Judi Puritz Cook, who has two sons at the Devotion School.
On Monday, Devotion Principal Gerardo J. Martinez sent a letter to parents telling them that the school would begin weekly recitations next month of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag that he’d lead over the public address system.
He said teachers and students can’t be mandated to participate in the pledge under the Constitution, and called it a personal choice to participate.
“I urge you to have a conversation as a family to help your children understand why I will be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and to support them in feeling comfortable and confident in the decision on whether or not to participate,” Martinez said in the letter.
But Sarah Wunsch, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in Boston, said she hasn’t heard of another school using permission slips to handle the pledge.
“It suggests that this is a decision for parents alone. Are they going to enforce that?” asked Wunsch, calling the use of permission slips “really strange.”
She said that the permission slip raises the issue of what would the schools do if a student’s wishes differ from his or her parents.
“I think that’s really strange that they’d do that… even children don’t lose their right of expression simply by walking into a schoolhouse’s doors,” said Wunsch, herself a Brookline resident.
In an interview, Superintendent Bill Lupini said that no student would be compelled to participate or not participate in the pledge based on how a parent filled out a permission slip.
He said the town’s school principals recently discussed how to enforce the district’s policy for the pledge. (It calls for teachers to recite the pledge with students at least once a week, according to the School Department website, www.brookline.k12.ma.us.)
Lupini returned a phone message left for Martinez by a Brookline TAB reporter.
Lupini said this was the first time he’d heard of a school using permission slips to choose to participate in the pledge; each school principal handled meeting the district’s policy in different ways, he said.
In a follow-up e-mail, Lupini said the permission slips are intended to encourage discussion among parents and their children about the pledge.
The Devotion School also sent home a copy of the pledge with definitions of several of its terms, including “under God,” which was defined as “there is one Supreme entity for every citizen.”
But Lupini said that was a mistake: Martinez’ letter was reviewed by Lupini and Associate Town Counsel Joslin Ham Murphy, but neither reviewed the handout that included the reference to “under God.” Lupini wasn’t aware of it until a Brookline TAB reporter pointed it out.
“It unfortunately didn’t get reviewed and ended up as part of the packet” sent to parents, said Lupini, who noted that school officials will meet on Wednesday to discuss how to contact parents regarding the mistake.
School Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Stone said she hadn’t seen Martinez’ letter, and referred to an existing School Department policy.
She said the School Committee hasn’t recently addressed how the pledge is handled in classrooms. She said Devotion may be trying to comply with the school system’s existing policies.
Massachusetts state law requires public school teachers to lead students at the start of every school day. Public school teachers who don’t recite the pledge for at least two weeks could face a token fine of up to $5, according to the law.
But that law isn’t enforced, as state courts have ruled that teachers and students don’t have to participate, said Wunsch, the ACLU attorney.
Cook said there was no parent notification that officials were dealing with the pledge before this note went out; she said the school hasn’t held a pledge for about seven years.
She said she checked off “No” on the permission slips for her seventh grader and second grader at Devotion, along with a written note explaining why.
She said one son won’t say the pledge, but the other one worries that he’ll get a detention if he doesn’t participate.
“They want to do the right thing,” she said, and noted that having the school’s principal lead the pledge every week could pressure students to join in.
She said she supports the school’s efforts to be inclusive of everyone, and feels that restarting the pledge after at least seven years was contrary to that.
“We’re celebrating diversity and including people… and then to be the one sitting there, waiting for the pledge to finish, [that] doesn’t feel inclusive,” said Cook, who later noted, “Yeah, it’s weird. That’s the right word for it.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Found this via Creative Minority Report: