The mother of a 6-year-old Florida boy who took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance on Monday morning criticized the way the school handled the incident.
Eugenia McDowell told ABC News that her son knelt down during the daily pledge to the flag at Wiregrass Elementary School in Wesley Chapel, Florida. The incident occurred after a weekend of demonstrations across the NFL in which many players, owners, and teams engaged in peaceful protests by sitting, kneeling or locking arms during the national anthem.
McDowell said she did not know her son was going to kneel and was informed of the incident in a text message from the boy’s teacher Monday evening.
The message, seen by ABC News, read: “I knew where he had seen it [going down on one knee], but I did tell him that in the classroom, we are learning what it means to be a good citizen, we’re learning about respecting the United States of America and our country symbols and showing loyalty and patriotism and that we stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
McDowell said her son was publicly admonished for his gesture of silent protest, a move she said stifles his voice and freedom of speech. But according to Pasco County School District Spokesperson Linda Cobbe, the boy’s teacher does not believe any other students saw her admonishment. Cobbe said the teacher mouthed the words, “We stand for the pledge” in response to the boy’s decision to take a knee.
Cobbe said the school’s policy is that students must have a written letter from a parent advising the school that the student does not plan to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Florida state law does allow a student to be excused from “reciting the pledge, including standing and placing the right hand over his or her heart” if a written request from a parent is made.
“Our policy — and state law, for that matter — requires that a parent submit a request in writing that their student be exempted from participating in the pledge,” Cobbe told ABC News.
McDowell had not submitted such a letter to the school, Cobbe added, but if she had, the incident would have been treated differently. McDowell said she was not aware of that policy, had not sent a letter in and does not plan on doing so.
“If he had that exemption, nothing would have been said. Students could stand, students could kneel, they don’t have to put their hand on their heart. They just have to be respectful of the students who are participating,” Cobbe said.
McDowell said she…