By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010; B01
The mother of a 13-year-old Montgomery County middle school student is demanding an apology from a teacher who had school police escort the youngster from a classroom for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
The unidentified student was mocked by other children in her class and has been too traumatized to return to Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, according to Ajmel Quereshi, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland who is representing the family.
A school spokesman said Tuesday that the teacher's actions were a clear violation of the school's regulations, which are based on state law. The teacher, who also has not been identified by either side, will have to apologize to the student, spokesman Dana Tofig said.
"The policy is very, very clearly stated," Tofig said. "Our teachers are expected to know the students' rights and responsibilities. . . . A mistake has been made, and it will be rectified."
Quereshi said that as of Tuesday afternoon, no one from the school had contacted the girl or her family to resolve the issue. The teen's mother tried to schedule a meeting with school officials but was told they would not meet with her if she wanted to bring a lawyer, Quereshi said.
The ACLU asked in a Feb. 5 letter that the teacher personally apologize to the student, promise to respect her rights in the future and discuss the incident with the class so it can become an educational opportunity.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that students cannot be forced to salute the flag. Maryland law explicitly allows any student or teacher to be excused from participating in the pledge, according to the ACLU.
The Montgomery school system's student handbook contains a section about "Patriotic Exercises" that reads: "You cannot be required to say a pledge, sing an anthem, or take part in patriotic exercises. No one will be permitted to intentionally embarrass you if you choose not to participate."
The incident began on a Wednesday in late January, when the girl did not stand for the pledge. Her teacher yelled at her, demanded that she stand and then sent her to the office for her defiance, Quereshi said. The school system confirmed the sequence of events.
The next morning, the girl again refused to stand for the pledge. This time, the teacher called two school police officers to the classroom to escort the girl to the office.