Weeks after an 11-year-old boy was arrested at his Lakeland middle school for allegedly being disruptive after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, his attorney says he plans to file a civil complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
Roderick Ford, an attorney with Cochran Law Firm in Tampa, told The Ledger
that he and the sixth-grader's family are hoping the state attorney's office opts to not move forward with formal charges against the Polk County student. He claims the student was exercising his right of free speech.
"There is an improper constitutional deprivation of rights that goes to the heart of the founding of this country," Ford told the Ledger
on Monday. "He is very proud to be an American and he was acting in the greatest tradition of being an American."
On Feb. 4, when substitute teacher Ana Alvarez asked a class at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy to stand for the pledge, the 11-year-old student declined and told the teacher that "the flag was racist and the national anthem was offensive to black people," Bay News 9
reported last week.
Dhakira Talbot, the student's mother, said her son doesn't normally stand for for the pledge, according to a report from WTSP 10
. The Ledger
also previously reported that Chiles Middle Academy doesn't require students to participate, which is perfectly reasonable since forcing public school children to salute the flag or say the pledge was ruled unconstitutional in 1943, when the U.S. Supreme Court cited it as a clear violation of free speech rights in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
Alvarez, however, reportedly let the situation escalate.
The substitute teacher then told the kid, "Why if it was so bad here he did not go to to another place to live."
He reportedly responded, "They brought me here."
"Well you can always go back," Alvarez reportedly told the student. "I came here from Cuba, and the day I feel I'm not welcome here anymore I would find another place to live."
Talbot told WTSP 10
that the substitute also told her son to go back to his homeland in Africa.
The substitute then called the school's front office and asked that the student be removed. The Ledger
reports that School Resource Officer Carlos Cortes and School Dean Michael Simpson asked the student to leave several times and eventually escorted the kid from class. A Polk County Public Schools spokesperson stressed to the Ledger
that the student was arrested for being "disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions," not because he refused to recite the pledge.
Once pried from the classroom, the student reportedly continued to yell in the hall that "You're all racist." He reportedly began to cry and scream.
"I'm going to get you fired. I'm going to get you all fired," the student said, according to the Ledger
Alvarez will reportedly "no longer serve as a substitute" in the school district. Polk County Public Schools reportedly plans to revisit the school system's substitute teacher hiring practices.
The ACLU of Florida called the boy's arrest "outrageous."
"Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates," the civil rights organization wrote on Twitter
. "This is a prime example of the over-policing of black students in school."
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