Florida student arrested after refusing to say the Pledge

An eleven-year-old student in Polk County was arrested after a dispute following his refusal to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Students saying the Pledge.

Students saying the Pledge.

Skyler DiLoreto

In Lakeland, FL, a sixth-grade student was arrested this month. Throughout the school year he had refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance; however, he had a dispute over this when a substitute teacher confronted him about this action.

Many, including the boy’s family and the American Civil Liberties Union, have criticized the misdemeanor he has now been charged for disruption of the classroom, with by Polk County Public schools and the resource officer at his school who arrested him. The student’s reasoning behind his refusal to say the pledge was his belief that the pledge represented racism. His refusal to recite the pledge and his speech explaining his reasoning behind this action are both protected by the First Amendment; additionally, Polk County Public Schools’ student body code of conduct allows a student to decide to not participate in Pledge of Allegiance with written authorization from a parent. The district has said, however, that the substitute was unaware of this policy.

According to a statement issued by Polk County Public Schools the student was arrested after “becoming disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions by members of the school staff and law enforcement.” The boy’s parents have argued that any disciplinary actions taken against the boy should have been through the school as opposed to through being arrested.

The arrest of this student has led to criticisms of the Florida school system and what the A.C.L.U calls its “school-to-prison pipeline.” Florida is one of the few states that permits the arrests of students who are any age, which leads to thousands of students being arrested in Florida every year, with some believing that African American students are being more harshly disciplined. For example, at a Florida middle school where only seventeen percent of the students are African American, thirty-nine percent of African American students were represented in disciplinary actions.