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Houston teen says she was expelled for not standing for Pledge of Allegiance

President Trump says his criticism of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem “has nothing to do with race.” (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: John McDonnell/The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

As America’s national anthem protests have grown louder, consuming the NFL, the office of the president and a good chunk of public discourse, India Landry has had her own silent revolt, sitting quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance at her Houston high school.

The 17-year-old senior was one of many relatively anonymous people who have followed the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police violence against black people, among other discrimination.

At Windfern High School, India and other students are required to stand during the pledge, even if they don’t recite it. But for the past 200 or so school days, India told Houston CBS affiliate KHOU, she refused to “stand for the pledge because it goes against everything I believe in.”

For months, her act of civil disobedience attracted little fanfare, according to a lawsuit filed by her mother, Kizzy Landry. But on Oct. 2, she was summarily expelled by school officials, who told her that “this isn’t the NFL.”

After the punishment, the suit says, they told the girl to call her mom for a ride home, saying she’d be escorted out of school by police otherwise.

A few days later, Kizzy Landry filed a lawsuit, which names Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District and Principal Martha Strother as defendants. The suit seeks unspecified exemplary and punitive damages.

The lawsuit claims that administrators at Windfern had been “whipped into a frenzy by the publicity of African-American National Football League players kneeling for the national anthem.”

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On Oct. 2, instead of being in class when the pledge was recited, India was in the principal’s office. The lawsuit doesn’t say why, and school officials didn’t return calls seeking comment.

According to the lawsuit, the school’s assistant principal told India that she “was going to stand for the pledge like the other African-American in her class.”

When she didn’t, the lawsuit says, Strother told her: “Well you’re kicked outta here.”

In a statement to KHOU, the school district didn’t release details about the exchange, saying only: “A student will not be removed from campus for refusing to stand for the Pledge. We will address this situation internally.”

The news station said school rules require students who don’t say the pledge to stand unless they have a note from a parent.

In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that students couldn’t be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The plaintiffs in that case were Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose religion forbids them from saying the pledge.

India’s reason for sitting wasn’t religious; she had expressed opinions similar to Kaepernick’s.

“I don’t think the flag is for what it says it’s for, liberty and justice and … all that,” she told KHOU. “It’s not obviously what’s going on in America today.”

Her lawsuit says timing and the political climate were at play in her expulsion.

Some say protesting during the national anthem is a constitutionally protected form of free speech and an effective way for professional athletes and others to express frustration that the country isn’t doing more to weed out officers who don’t value the lives of minorities. Critics of the protests say Americans should respect their nation’s flag and that not doing so is particularly disrespectful to veterans.

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Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem as a means of protest, to draw attention to the killings of unarmed black people by police.

The protests snowballed as NFL players and athletes in other sports followed suit.

President Trump fanned the flames of the controversy last month during a speech at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Ala.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” said the president, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b‑‑‑‑ off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ”

In football games after Trump’s statements, more players and, at times, entire teams knelt, as well as some coaches and owners.

And the president’s words have ignited a digital war of words with NFL players.

Things show no signs of abating, and they intensified Sunday.

Vice President Pence, the former governor of Indiana, attended an Indianapolis Colts game (against Kaepernick’s former team, the 49ers). The Colts were celebrating the retirement of Peyton Manning’s jersey.

But Pence walked out after several 49ers players opted to take a knee during the national anthem. Trump later tweeted that he asked Pence to leave the stadium “if any players kneeled.”

In Houston last week, as the national anthem controversy continued across the nation, Kizzy Landry was simply trying to get her daughter back in school.

She repeatedly called the school, trying to set up a meeting with the principal, the lawsuit says. When it happened Friday, the lawsuit said, the principal told her “India must stand for the pledge to be let back in at Windfern.”

Strother said that sitting was “disrespectful and should not be allowed” and suggested that instead of refusing to stand for the pledge, India should “write about justice and African Americans being killed.”

But the Landrys wouldn’t budge.

A little after leaving the meeting, India’s mother got a call from a local news station about the “pledge controversy.” Word had gotten out.

A story aired at 5 p.m. that day.

The next day, the lawsuit says, the principal called India’s mom and said the teen could come back to school — and sit during the pledge.

The Landrys, meanwhile, sued.

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