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Brookline School Committee adopting Pledge of Allegience policy

Posted by Tom Coakley  April 12, 2011 01:42 PM

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By Andreae Downs, Globe Correspondent

The Brookline School Committee last week developed a new policy on when and how the Pledge of Allegiance will be said in the eight K-8 schools.

It requires principals to allow a weekly recitation of the pledge during morning announcements, but stipulates that while the pledge should be treated with respectful silence, the choice of whether to join in will be up to the individual and no one will “prevent prohibit or demean” those who choose one way or another.

The school commitee members hoped their stance would quell a controversy, but they encountered fervent opposition from residents who called it unconstitutional and bad education to require or even suggest that the pledge be said weekly.

The proposed policy acknowledges both state law requiring teachers in public classrooms to lead the pledge and court determinations that requiring staff or students to recite it is unconstitutional.

The issue came to the fore in December, after Devotion Principal Gerardo Martinez sent home a letter informing parents that the pledge would be recited once a week. It had not been the practice to do so at Devotion for at least five years , according to Superintendent Bill Lupini . In the letter, Martinez cited both the state law and the current school-wide policy and practice of reciting the pledge “at least once a week.”

At the time of the letter, six of of Brookline’s eight K-8 schools were reciting the pledge once a week. In addition to not being said at the Devotion School, the pledge was not regularly said at the Lincoln School. (Currently, it is said once a week at every school.)

In his December letter, Martinez added that he is a proud first-generation Cuban American and that, under the Constitution, no student or teacher could be required to participate.

An item in The Brookline Tab was picked up by Fox News and other national outlets, along with various blogs, calling the tear-off slip at the bottom of Martinez’ letter a “permission slip” allowing students to participate—or not. Soon the School Committee, superintendent and Martinez had email from all over the country—most of it anonymous, fairly heated, and in response to what the writers perceived as a lack of patriotism in Brookline.

In fact, parents and residents weighed in on both sides of the issue as the School Committee took up the matter.

Katie Tagliavia, who has children in third and sixth grades, said in an interview this week that most of her 6th grade girl scout troop didn’t know the pledge, because it hadn’t been the practice in Devotion.

“It was horrifying,” she said. “They’d never even heard it before.”

But attorney Martin Rosenthal, a former selectman and father of an 8th-grader at the school, argued before the School Committee last week that the rote recitation of the pledge is “bad education.”

“What is the curricular value of saying the pledge?” he asked.

According to Rebecca Stone , chairwoman of the school board, the email discussion even among residents has been highly-charged on both sides.

“I understand how fervently people feel,” she said at the meeting. “But there are many more important things the School Committee does than decide on the pledge.” The board also voted its budget for next year at that meeting.

Stone said that saying the pledge in schools was a “well-established civic tradition” but also had associations with “anti-democratic ostracism” and said the board’s object was to educate children about the wording and the flag in a more comprehensive format than rote recitation. The other eight members agreed that the issue was very difficult, but that the new policy, which they will vote on April 28 , was a good compromise.

Rosenthal and Town Meeting Member Stanley Spiegel disagreed.

The state law, Spiegel said, “is not constitutional.” He added that he grew up during the McCarthy era, when “people were fired because they wouldn’t take a loyalty oath. The pledge is coercive.”

Tagliavia says that’s not what she hears when talking with other parents at Devotion.

“Everyone at school, when you’re in conversations about it, is in support of it,” she said. “I’ve never understood why someone would have an issue with patriotism.”

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