Saturday, November 16, 2019
US flag

Maybe a Fla. dist. took pledge opt-out too far

A school district in the Florida panhandle took a new law that requires schools to inform parents of their children’s right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance seriously. Too seriously, say parents, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

“We want it to be abundantly clear that while yes, there is a law stating you need to notify parents [that their children have a right to opt out of saying the pledge], there is no requirement to create any type of form or waiver,” the paper quoted Florida Department of Education communications director Meghan Collins as saying.

At issue was a waiver form printed and distributed by Leon County Schools to an estimated 400 parents. Those parents were instructed to return the waiver if they wanted their son or daughter to opt out of the pledge. The law, which is new for this school year, simply requires schools to inform parents of their opt-out rights.

Following an immediate rejection of the waiver form by parents and on social media, Leon County Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons scrapped the waiver form, changed the language in the student handbook to the exact language in the new statute, and said, “When they pass a statute that requires us to put notifications in a handbook, no matter how you do that, it creates issues. … If somebody wants to not participate they can provide their own note.”


Of course, printing a special opt-out form is a little much—and beyond the strict requirement of Florida’s new law, a law that doesn’t actually create any new rights. Parents always had the right, transmitted to students in classrooms, not to say the Pledge of Allegiance. All Florida’s new law really did, then, was to create a burden on schools to notify parents that they have this right.

Saying the pledge is kind of like singing the National Anthem before a sports event. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently made a refusal to participate in that show of patriotism famous when he knelt during the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner at a preseason football game. Saying the pledge really isn’t much different.

Furthermore, laws that require schools to say the pledge every morning don’t violate atheists’ equal protection rights either. That’s what the New Jersey Superior Court found last year, also ruling that saying the pledge in school doesn’t violate anyone’s religious freedom under the First Amendment, even though the pledge includes the phrase “under God.”

People have always had the right to opt out. Now school districts in Florida just have to add language to their student handbooks to remind parents of this right. We don’t need to make a big deal of it by printing a separate form, because freedom and patriotism mean different things to different people in our diverse society. The freedoms we enjoy don’t include forcing kids to say anything they don’t want to say. Whether that’s on a test or in front of a flag, it’s the same freedom we’re talking about: free expression.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

2 dead, 3 wounded in Calif. school shooting

Another school shooting has resulted in the death of 2 California high school students. The suspect shot himself and is in custody.

Mercury makes a transit; next in 2032

A transit of Mercury occurred today and was visible from the US, provided you had sunny skies. It was one of longest possible transits.

On the Naperville BWW racist incident

A racist incident at a Naperville, IL, sports bar indicates that the threads of racism are strong, perhaps as strong as ever.

IL bill could excuse absences to vote

A proposed law in IL could give students up to two hours during the school day so they could vote in the upcoming election.

Loan forgiveness gains some bipartisan support

One Republican from GA, who used to work under Betsy DeVos at the US Education Dept, offers a plan to forgive some student loan debt.

A band teacher is IL Teacher of the Year

IL named a band teacher the 2020 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 19. He individualizes music instruction and shares his work with 1000s.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ bookends Halloween

Several high schools have decided to add a little spook to their musical stages in this season of Halloween. Music makes it happen.

New IL law ensures inclusion of LGBTQ+

A law will take effect next school year in IL that will require students to study LGBTQ history as part of the social studies curriculum.

MoCo doubles down on summer learning loss

Research is at least equivocal about summer learning loss, but maybe there's something to a new plan in Montgomery County, Md.

Downers North lights up the gym for Beth

Ongoing fundraising drives for a Downers Grove N. volleyball player killed by an intoxicated driver in Feb. are going strong in this western suburb.

High-payroll Yankees don’t make World Series

The World Series begins Tuesday, but some of the playoff games can teach us valuable things about youth sports, investment, etc.