A Fairfax County teacher who allegedly disciplined a high school student for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance breached system rules and will not be returning to the classroom, school district administrators decided following an investigation.
The episode was reported to officials at Centreville High School by the student, who said the teacher yelled for him to stand and then yanked him from his seat when he wouldn’t.
“The incident at Centreville High School is unacceptable behavior by a classroom instructor and directly violates an existing and long-standing [Fairfax County Public Schools] policy,” Fairfax Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in an emailed statement.
Brabrand’s statement did not identify the student or teacher, but the student said in an interview that the teacher is Richard Ferrick. An attorney for Ferrick, James K. Freeman, said in an email that the “allegations are without merit,” but declined further comment.
The student, Eric Trammel, recalled that the November morning began like so many before, with a familiar morning ritual at Centreville.
Students around Trammel rose for the Pledge of Allegiance. But the sophomore did as he has for more than a year: He remained seated.
This time, Ferrick ordered the 15-year-old to rise, Trammel recalled. When he refused, Ferrick pulled Trammel by the arm and sent him outside, the teenager said.
“He was really angry when he grabbed my arm,” Trammel said. “I just never really saw it coming.”
Employees in the Fairfax County Public Schools are forbidden from disciplining students who do not participate in the pledge, according to district policy. Students who abstain are expected to sit or stand quietly, the policy states.
The school district declined to say if the teacher was fired because it does not publicly discuss personnel matters.
Trammel hasn’t stood for the morning recitation since encountering the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter during the eighth grade. He views the quiet demonstration as his way of drawing attention to unequal racial treatment and other forms of inequality, he said.
“The country is in a very divided place right now and there’s a lot of injustices around the U.S. I feel like me sitting can spread awareness to that,” Trammel said. “I don’t believe in forcing other people to sit. . . . That’s just a personal decision.”
Similar actions have captured national attention.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick became one of the country’s most polarizing sports figure s when, as a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, he took a knee during the national anthem in protest of police violence against black people.
Kaepernick gained renewed attention earlier this year after President Trump, during a campaign rally in Alabama for Republican Sen. Luther Strange, went off topic and said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ”
Unlike the animated national discourse ignited by Trump’s remarks and subsequent tweets, Trammel’s display drew little fuss until Nov. 14, he said. It was his second day in driver’s education class, he said, when Ferrick spotted him sitting for the Pledge of Allegiance during first period.
After being thrown out of class, Trammel said he spent 20 minutes outside in the cold before knocking and asking Ferrick if he could return. The teacher allegedly refused unless Trammel agreed to stand for the pledge.
“This isn’t the NFL,” Trammel recalled the teacher saying.
“This has nothing to do with the NFL,” Trammel said he responded, adding that he explained to Ferrick that he had the right to sit through the pledge.
When the teacher refused to let Trammel return, the teen said he went to school administrators, who walked with him back to class.
The administrators, whom Trammel declined to name, spoke with Ferrick as Trammel returned to class and quietly took notes. The teacher, Trammel said, pulled him aside after class.
“He told me that our relationship had drastically changed, that what he thought of me was different,” Trammel said. “He also moved me to the back of the classroom.”
Trammel detailed the encounter in a text message to his mother, Angela Trammel, soon after.
“I was respectful and said it is a right I have to sit in class and he basically tried to say his class rules override that,” Angela Trammel said her son wrote.
The mother said she was unaware her son felt so fiercely about the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I’m pretty proud of his courage. I’m more proud that he behaved well throughout his courage,” she said. “As a mother, I want Eric to know he’s going to be protected and he doesn’t have to make any concessions when he’s been mistreated, ever.”
In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court established in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that students cannot be forced to recite the pledge.
The family is looking into legal options. Victor M. Glasberg, one of the attorneys representing the family, described Trammel’s refusal to back down as admirable.
“In this political climate, any time anybody stands up to say no is important,” Glasberg said. “Particularly when it’s done politely, with appropriate deference and respect.”
Trammel’s father, Ernest Trammel, stood by his son.
“He has the right to voice his opinion and do his thing, as long as he’s peacefully doing it,” Ernest Trammel said. “When we, as Americans, stop standing up for what we believe is right, we basically accept the injustice.”
Trammel said he hasn’t since encountered other issues in his driver’s education class, where he has an A, he said.