(USA TODAY) — An 11-year-old student in Florida is facing charges after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and creating a disturbance in the classroom, police said.
The boy was arrested for causing a disruption and refusing repeated instructions from school staff and law enforcement, Polk County Public Schools spokesperson Kyle Kennedy said in a statement. He was not arrested for refusing to participate in the pledge – even though students have the right to do so by Florida law and district policy.
The sixth-grader from a Tampa suburb allegedly told his substitute teacher the flag is “racist” and the national anthem is offensive to black people, Bay News 9 reported, citing a statement the teacher gave the district.
In response, the teacher said she asked the student why not go to another place to live if it was “so bad here.” She said he answered, “They brought me here.”
The substitute, identified by district officials as Ana Alvarez, said, “Well, you can always go back because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live.”
Alvarez said she called the office on Feb. 4 because she did not want to keep “dealing with him,” according to her statement. An officer and a school administrator tried to calm the student, the Lakeland Police Department said in a Sunday night press release. The administrator asked him to leave the classroom more than 20 times, police said, and the student allegedly made threats while being escorted to the office.
Police transported the Lawton Chiles Middle Academy student to the Juvenile Assessment Center and charged him with disrupting a school function and resisting an officer without violence, the Lakeland Police Department said.
Officers would not arrest a student for not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance, public information officer Gary Gross told USA TODAY on Sunday, but, in general, would arrest a student for screaming, yelling and making threats.
Dhakira Talbot, the boy’s mother, told Bay News 9 that she wants the charges dropped. She denied the arrest affidavit accusing her son of threatening to beat the teacher, the station reported.
“She was wrong. She was way out of place,” Talbot told Bay News 9. “If she felt like there was an issue with my son not standing for the flag, she should’ve resolved that in a way different manner than she did.”
Alvarez no longer works as a substitute in the district, Kennedy said, adding that the teacher did not know students weren’t required to participate in the pledge. The district will also review training for substitutes, Kennedy said.
First Amendment rights prevent schools from requiring students to recite the pledge or salute the flag, the Supreme Court ruled in 1943.