Florida Sixth-Grader Arrested After His Refusal to Recite Pledge of Allegiance Led to Confrontation
The 11-year-old refused to stand for the pledge, leading to a contentious disagreement with school officials.
A sixth grader is facing misdemeanor charges after having a confrontation with a teacher that began after he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Feb. 4 incident allegedly started when a substitute teacher told the 11-year-old boy to stand up for the pledge at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Fla. According to the arrest affidavit, the boy refused and told the teacher that he thought the flag and the national anthem are “racist” against black people.
According to a handwritten statement from the substitute teacher, she asked the boy why he didn’t find somewhere else to live, and the boy replied, “they brought me here.”
The teacher claims that she responded by saying, “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.”
The teacher then called the district office, because she didn’t want to continue dealing with the boy, according to her statement.
According to the police report, the situation then escalated. Police say that the student refused to leave the room and repeatedly yelled at school officials, calling them racist.
According to the affidavit, the boy yelled, “suspend me! I don’t care. This school is racist.” The affidavit also alleges that the student threatened to beat the teacher.
The student has been charged with disruption of a school facility and resisting an officer without violence, both misdemeanors.
“This arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom,” the Lakeland Police Department said in a press release.
The 11-year-old’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, has not returned PEOPLE’s call for comment, but she told local news outlets that the school’s characterization of her son’s behavior is incorrect.
On Sunday, she told Bay News 9 that the teacher and the school overstepped their authority.
“I’m upset, I’m angry. I’m hurt,” she told the station. “My son has never been through anything like this. I feel like this should’ve been handled differently. If any disciplinary action should’ve been taken, it should’ve been with the school. He shouldn’t have been arrested.”
The Polk County Public School district issued a similar statement.
“The student was arrested after becoming disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions by school staff and law enforcement,” the statement reads. “To be clear, the student was NOT arrested for refusing to participate in the pledge; students are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
“The substitute teacher was asked to leave campus immediately after providing a written statement,” the school district continues. “We do not condone the substitute’s behavior. We respect our students’ right to freedom of expression and we are committed to protecting that critical right while ensuring peaceful classrooms so all students can learn.”