Pledge of allegiance controversy: When a teacher becomes the bully

Pledge of allegiance controversy: A Florida teacher was suspended for forcing a Jehovah's Witness student to pledge allegiance to the American flag, against religious doctrine. Was this a battle over the pledge of allegiance, or of allegiance to the teacher?

Clay Jackson/The Advocate Messenger/AP, File
Pledge suspension: A Florida teacher was suspended for allegedly forcing a Jehovah's Witness student to pledge allegiance to the American flag. Here, students raise the American flag at a Kentucky elementary school.

While a Florida teacher was suspended for physically forcing a fourth grader to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, her greater misstep was in a total lack of respect and humility when it comes to the children in her care.

My kids have said the Pledge of Allegiance since they were old enough to mangle it into, “One station. Underground. Invisible. With liberty and juice sticks for all!”

However, there are kids whose parents have very strong religious beliefs – in this case Jehovah's Witnesses who are forbidden from worshiping objects, including the American flag – that allow them to love their country, but alter the traditional classroom practice.

According to a report by the Tampa Bay Times, Anne Daigle-McDonald, a teacher at Explorer K-8 School in Spring Hill, Fla., didn’t just force a child, a Jehovah's Witness, to place his hand over his heart during the Sept. 11 pledge, but went to the extremes of publicly bullying, berating, and judging him and his family.

The teacher admitted that the boy’s mother had told her about their religious beliefs, but said she was not aware that included the pledge.

However, according to the Times, Ms. Daigle-McDonald not only “yanked his wrist” physically forcing him to take the pledge posture, but carried the issue over to the next day when she allegedly told the class: "In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can't do the pledge. If you can't put your hand on your heart, then you need to move out of the country."

In my humble opinion, as the mom of four boys who has met many teachers over the past 20 years, I believe this wasn’t a battle over allegiance to the flag.

This was about allegiance to the teacher and her word in the classroom.

Over the years,  I have seen some teachers behave this way when they feel challenged by a child. Some teachers seem to feel that any breach in the normal pattern as a personal attack that cannot be tolerated.

It’s a response born of fear and a need for total control in order to maintain order.

Good teaching is about celebrating differences and learning about diversity together.

As singer Sara Bareilles might ask this educator, “Who died and made you king of anything?”

From our first children's first day of school, we as parents must walk a fine line between respect for authority and protecting their children from ill-treatment.

We are constantly hearing complaints about a teacher who’s “mean” or “unfair.”

As we field these kids’ issues, we do our fair share of judging who is telling the truth, and often we must explain to our children that certain things only seem unfair or unjust, and we must learn to cope. This is not one of those times.

According to Yahoo News, Hernando County School District officials investigated the incident, concluding that the teacher "violated a number of state education rules, professional conduct principles and the student's right to free speech and freedom of religion."

Daigle-McDonald was suspended for five days without pay and instructed to attend diversity training, said the newspaper.

I think this teacher needs something beyond diversity training because this is crossing the line into bullying.

Parents cannot allow any educator to: A. Resort to physically correcting young children in their care. B. Disrespect and ignore parental instructions regarding their child and C. Cast anyone who agrees with that child in the light of someone who doesn’t belong.

It’s not about the child’s pledge. It’s all about our communities pledging to treat all children with respect; preserving their dignity and making them feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

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