A clash over an 11-year-old Florida student's refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance ended in his arrest earlier this month. According to reports, a sixth grader at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida, objected when asked to stand for the pledge, telling a substitute teacher he found the American flag racist. After an alleged confrontation with the substitute and school staff, the boy was placed under arrest and taken to a juvenile detention center. Police have said the child's arrest was unrelated to his unwillingness to stand for the pledge.
According to both The Ledger and Bay News 9, the student was arrested Feb. 4 on charges of disrupting a school function and resisting arrest without violence. A spokesperson for Polk County Public Schools told Patch that students are not required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and that the substitute teacher in question had since been barred from accepting teaching assignments at any of the schools in the district.
Lakeland Police spokesperson Gary Gross tells Bustle that Florida Public Records Laws prohibits the department from speaking about juvenile misdemeanor arrests, but stressed that "the arrest had nothing to do with the child not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance." Bustle has reached out to both Lawton Chiles Middle Academy and the Polk County Public School District for additional comment.
Things reportedly got heated when the sixth grader refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, telling the substitute they found the flag racist and the national anthem to be offensive to black people, Bay News 9 has reported. In a statement submitted to the district by the substitute — and reportedly obtained by Bay News 9 — the teacher claimed to have then asked the child why "if it was so bad here he did not go to another place to live." According to the substitute's statement, the child replied, "they brought me here," to which the teacher responded, "well, you can always go back."
According to Bay News 9, the substitute then called the office, telling the district in her statement, "I did not want to continue dealing with him."
A spokesperson for Polk County Public Schools told Patch "the student became disruptive and the teacher contacted school administrators for assistance." It was at this point that Lawton Chiles Middle Academy's resource deputy became involved, according to the school district's spokesperson. They told Patch that Lakeland Police arrested the 11-year-old after he'd become "disruptive" and had refused to follow repeated instructions given by both the school's staff and law enforcement.
"To be clear, students are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance," the school district's spokesperson told Patch. "Unfortunately, a substitute teacher was not aware of this."
In an interview with Bay News 9, the student's mother criticized both the substitute teacher and the school for how they handled the situation. "She was wrong. She was way out of place," the news outlet reported the mother said of the substitute. "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."