Posted: November 27, 2017
By Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk
UNIONDALE, N.Y. —
A New York state high school teacher has been removed from the classroom by his district after bragging on Facebook last month that he once failed two students because they refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Newsday reported that Steven Solomon, a health teacher at Uniondale High School, was reassigned on Nov. 15 after several residents complained to the school board about his social media post. Uniondale is a small community on Long Island.
“The school district is aware of a teacher posting on social media about a situation involving grades and standing for the Pledge of Allegiance that occurred more than a decade ago,” Uniondale Superintendent William Lloyd said in a statement obtained by Newsday. “The District has taken the proactive measure of assigning this faculty member to out-of-classroom duties until further investigation into the matter can be completed.”
Solomon told New York City’s WABC-TV that the students “failed themselves.”
“They had less than a passing grade, and that, combined with poor behavior, which included -- part of it was they didn’t stand for the pledge, they said they didn’t care if these military people lived or died,” Solomon told the news station.
The longtime teacher said the students disrespected him, themselves and their families.
“They had many behavioral write-ups. So, it was a combination,” Solomon said. “What am I supposed to do, reward kids with a failing grade who have poor discipline?”
The Facebook comment obtained by WABC-TV showed, however, that Solomon told a friend he ordinarily would have passed the students, despite the failing grades.
“Well, I know God has a sense of humor because both of these unpatriotic kids ended up with a 63 (average), and under ordinary circumstances I would have passed them both,” Solomon wrote. “Instead I failed them both.
“Well, the next year, miraculously, I had them both back in my homeroom class and, when I asked the class to stand, these two suckers were the first up! True story!”
Solomon wrote in the comment that he went against his principal’s orders when he tried to make the teens stand.
“(The students) went to the principal complaining I couldn’t legally make them stand. The principal told me not to make them stand,” he wrote.
The teens were within their legal right to refrain from standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. A 1943 Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia -- West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette -- protects students from having to say the pledge in school.
“I told the students standing for the flag was showing respect for the men of the military who risked their lives to protect our freedoms,” Solomon wrote in the Facebook comment. “They said, ‘We didn’t ask them to.’”
Solomon wrote that when the students refused to stand again the following day, he threatened their grades.
“I told them that is true, and that what makes this country great is ‘that I didn’t have to pass them, either,’” he wrote.
Solomon denied that he failed the students solely because they didn’t stand for the pledge and said he was “goofing off to a friend” when he wrote the post, WABC-TV reported.
“I thought this just went to him,” Solomon told the news station. “This person said, ‘Teachers don’t teach respect anymore, don’t have kids stand for the pledge anymore.’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not true.’”
He said the students were “not choir kids,” but were teens who said they didn’t care if military members lived or died.
“I never put down any kid I ever taught,” Solomon said. “I bring kids up. I build the kids up. I regret that that came out. That was meant for one person to read. Not everyone.”
He questioned the district’s decision to remove him from his classroom.
“Because I want kids to have respect and stand for the pledge and have respect for people in this country, they want to try to suspend me and fire me?” Solomon said. “What message does that show?”
Newsday reported that Solomon has taught in the Uniondale district for 30 years.
Solomon is not the only educator to come under fire in recent months for trying to force students to stand during the pledge. The Midland, Texas, school district found itself facing questions in September after juniors and seniors at Midland High School attended a presentation that included a PowerPoint slide that stated it was the law to stay standing during the pledge.
In the weeks following the controversy, Midland Independent School District officials clarified that Texas law requires the inclusion of the pledge and a moment of silence each school day, but stated that the district’s policy has provisions allowing parents to opt their children out of participating.
A presentation telling students that they have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because it's the law has caused controversy at a Texas high school, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Juniors and seniors at Midland High School were given a presentation on the Pledge of Allegiance earlier this month, with a slide saying it's the law to stand during the pledge and stay silent during the moment of silence, KOSA reported.
“It's basically a law,” Seth Ortega told KOSA. “We need to stand to respect our country, and those who died.”
A 1943 Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia -- West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette -- protects students from having to say the pledge.
Lacy Sperry, executive director of communications for Midland ISD, told the Chronicle that the slide "was taken out of context" and that school administrators have addressed the issue.
"According to the Texas Education Code, Sec. 25.082, we are required to have students recite the U.S. pledge and the Texas pledge at least once a day, and we are required to have a moment of silence following the recitation of pledges," Sperry said via email. "As a protocol, we ask students to stand and remain standing. We honor any parental request for students to opt-out of the recitation of the pledge on any of our campuses."
According to the Texas Education Code, the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence is required from students daily. Students' parents or guardians can give written permission to have their children excluded.
A week after the controversy began, the Midland ISD released a second statement:
"Midland ISD received an inquiry from CBS 7 regarding a slide included in a PowerPoint presentation to Midland High School students this week. The information included in the slide if viewed out of context is confusing. However the slide was used as part of a presentation to students detailing the activities during the school day. Texas Law from the Texas Education Code - EDUC § 25.082. School Day; Pledges of Allegiance; Minute of Silence, requires the inclusion of the pledges and moment of silence during the school day. However it is not a mandate for every student. MISD policy includes provisions for parents to request their child be excluded from participating. Once again, nothing has changed. The PowerPoint slide was part of a presentation and described to the audience. Campus administrators have reviewed the slide and rearranged the text to ensure that no one else is confused by the contents of the slide."
Comments supporting and opposing the presentation could be found on KOSA’s Facebook page.
"This is pure propaganda. There is no law stating that you must stand for the pledge of allegiance. This is actually against your freedom of speech. I can choose to stand or not stand," Jayson Brown commented on KOSA’s Facebook page.
“You have the right to kneel but it's disrespectful to all the people who have died and suffered to give you that right,” Steve Benner said on Facebook..
"The pledge is a lovely patriotic poem, but is not embedded in our legal nor political systems at all except as a cultural expression of our love of country," Joanna Tousley-Escalante wrote.
The silent protest during the playing of the national anthem that started with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has spread not only around the National Football League, but, lately, to high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools around the country.
Kaepernick began the protest – first sitting, then kneeling as the national anthem was being played – during pre-season play last year, saying he was doing it because he is bothered by police treatment of blacks in America.
While Kaepernick’s actions went unnoticed for the first few games, his protests eventually gained press coverage, and he was joined by other professional athletes in similar protests around the country.
The protests are now being mimicked by a younger audience, as public school officials in districts around the United States are seeing protests by students. One recent protest was carried out by a six-year-old, and reports of protests and suspensions have grown in the past few weeks.
Earlier this month in Texas, a high school student was suspended for refusing to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. The Windfern High School (Houston) student, India Landry, was told she had to stand for the pledge, and when she did not, she was told by the school’s principal that she was suspended.
Landry has filed suit against the school.
A Florida first-grader decided to take a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance in his classroom last month and was reprimanded in front of other students in the class, according to his mother.
The increase in incidents has led some to ask what right students have when it comes to displays of patriotism at school. Can students at a public school refuse to stand for the national anthem or sit through the pledge?
Yes, they can.
In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court held in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, that forcing a student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, then punishing them if they did not, violated First Amendment rights to free speech and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The ruling came in a case brought by students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They argued that pledging allegiance to the United States would violate the tenets of their faith.
The Justices ruled that it did not matter if a person refused to recite the pledge because of religious beliefs or some other standard because no U.S. official could compel a person to “confess .. their faith” about anything.
Writing the majority opinion for the court, Justice Robert H. Jackson said, “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.”
So, if public schools cannot ban students from sitting or kneeling during the anthem or pledge, can they discipline them if they do protest?
No, they cannot, according to Frank LoMonte, the former executive director of the Student Press Law Center.
It does not matter if a student is part of a sports team or some other school group when he or she decides to protest, LoMonte told the website Education Week. Public institutions cannot withhold privileges when employees exercise free speech rights and that right extends to students.
"You can't condition a privilege on forsaking your constitutional right any more than you can condition a right or a benefit," LoMonte explained.While some school districts have continued to tell students they must stand for the pledge or the anthem, others have made it clear they cannot ban such protests, nor will they punish students who do choose to protest by kneeling.
Twelve football players from Laguna Creek (California) High School knelt during the national anthem before a football game at their school in September. While the school administration received complaints from some parents, the Elk Grove Unified School District issued a statement saying that it would not discipline the students, citing their right to exercise their “freedom of speech and expression protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."
Kena Betancur/Getty Images
Kena Betancur/Getty Images
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