A teacher in eastern Michigan has been placed on administrative leave after she was accused of “violently snatching” a sixth-grade student from his chair as he stayed seated for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Brian Chaney of Farmington Hills, Mich., said a teacher consultant forced his 11-year-old son, Stone, to stand for the pledge late last week at East Middle School. Chaney called the action a violation of his son’s civil rights, explaining that Stone had been making a personal decision not to salute the American flag — but to honor God and his family — for the past several years.
It had not been a problem, his father said, until now.
“When you put your hands on kids and force your own way of thinking, that’s not right,” Chaney told The Washington Post on Friday.
On his third day at a new school, Stone was sitting in class stressing about how to use the combination lock on his middle-school locker — which, his father said, should have been the extent of an 11-year-old boy’s worries.
“The teacher consultant comes up behind me and snatches me out of my chair violently,” Stone told NBC affiliate WDIV. “I was so confused. I didn’t know what was going on.”
The next day, on Sept. 8, Stone’s father said, a substitute teacher also “berated” the boy for staying seated during the pledge.
Chaney spoke Tuesday at a Farmington Public Schools board of education meeting, demanding answers. “I’m going to say we’re quite disappointed,” he told board members, standing with his four sons.
“My wife and I, my father-in-law, my parents, my entire family — we’ve shed many, many emotions in the last four or five days,” he said. “We are very disappointed that when we dropped our son off into the hands of East Middle School, we thought it would be nurturing hands.”
Chaney continued: “What we see on the TVs, what’s going on in America, it just came to my living room. Tears are done. I’m mad now. We’re looking for accountability.”
Farmington Public Schools Superintendent George Heitsch said in a statement to The Post that school leaders have opened an investigation into the incident. Chaney said that the educator who allegedly forced his son to stand during the pledge is a consultant who trains other teachers, but the district has not confirmed that.
Heitsch said the district supports each student’s right to decide whether to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. “At Farmington Public Schools, we expect every child and adult in our district to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “At this time, the District cannot speculate about the outcome of the pending investigation.”
Chaney, who is black, said the choice to quietly sit during the Pledge of Allegiance is one shared by the whole family but that Stone made the decision on his own. Chaney said that sitting during the pledge is making a statement that he does not approve of what the American flag stands for or how his ancestors were treated. He said his son is a “hero” for standing up for what he believes.
Others have made similar decisions about the pledge. A Native American teenager from northern California who had been sitting it out for years reportedly was docked a grade last year when she refused to stand for the pledge.
In a 1943 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said students have the right to decide whether to participate in the pledge. According to West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette:
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.
We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power, and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.
Chaney said he is not comfortable sending his son back to a school where the teachers have set a negative tone. School officials have offered to switch the sixth-grader to another homeroom or another school within the district, Chaney said, but he has not yet made a decision. He said he hopes the incident will “shake up the school district” so that “everyone will be treated equally.”
“Kids have rights, too,” he added.