ACLU defends Montgomery student who refused to say the Pledge -- Gazette.Net


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This story has been updated 3:15 p.m., April 11, 2013.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has again stepped in to defend a Montgomery County student who refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Enidris Siurano-Rodriguez, a sophomore at Damascus High School, should not have been sent to the principal’s office and “harassed” in February after “sitting quietly” during the Pledge, David Rocah, a staff attorney for the local ACLU wrote in a letter Tuesday to Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay and Damascus High Principal Robert Domergue.

“It started mid-February in my honors biology class,” Enidris said adding that she has not stood for the Pledge since she was in seventh grade. “The first semester teacher did not say anything, but the second semester teacher, [Deanna Jennings] did.”

Enidris said that when the teacher would ask her to stand she did because she thought she had to respect her, but, later when she learned her rights she realized the teacher had to respect her too and that is when Enidris said the harassment began.

Ironically, it was in her advanced placement government class that Enidris realized that her other teacher was violating her civil rights, she said.

She said she absolutely didn’t expect the situation to get as far as the teachers harassing her by telling her that if she did not stand, she would have to leave the class during the Pledge and being sent to Vice Principal Karen Rose, who agreed with the teacher and called Enidris’ mother, Sandra Rodriguez, telling her that Enidris would be removed from the class if she continued to sit during the Pledge.

“I’m proud of her because she is not afraid to say what she believes in,” Rodriguez said. “Not only that but she is supporting it with facts.”

Previous court rulings have made it clear that the First Amendment protects students who do not want to participate in the Pledge due to their political or religious beliefs, the letter explained.

In 1943, the United States Supreme Court found in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that civil liberties protects students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

Montgomery County Public Schools’ policy also affirms the right of students to refuse to participate in the Pledge.

“Our schools do start each day with the Pledge of Allegiance but students are not required to stand or participate,” Dana Tofig, MCPS spokesman wrote in an email to The Gazette.

Tofig also wrote that he is not aware that there is any training for teachers or administrators to address the issue.

Damascus principal Robert Domergue referred calls to Tofig. Jennings said in a phone call Thursday that she had no comment.

“The procedures are very straight-forward: If a student does not want to participate in the Pledge, they do not have to and cannot be compelled to do so,” Tofig wrote.

This is not the first time that the ACLU has contacted the school system about this issue, and because of that the ACLU asked in its letter to meet with school officials to review what the school system can do to make sure that all teachers and principals are aware of the students’ rights.

The letter also requested that the school system offer a formal apology to Enidris and her family.

“The actions taken to date have not been effective, and are not sufficient,” Rocah wrote.

Enidris, whose family is from Puerto Rico, explained to school administration that she has sat in her seat each morning during the Pledge since seventh grade because she believes “the United States government imposes conditions on Puerto Rico, due to its status as a territory, that she views as undemocratic,” according to the ACLU’s letter.

Her first period teacher, another teacher and the school’s assistant principal all told Enidris that she had to participate despite her beliefs, the letter states.

The last case of this issue the ACLU defended in Montgomery County was in 2010 when a teacher sent a Roberto Clemente Middle School student who refused to participate in the Pledge to the principal’s office, escorted by school security officers.

In a press release dated April 9, the ACLU of Maryland said the organization has received five complaints since 2008 from MCPS students in different schools who were harassed for not reciting the Pledge.

“Indeed, over the last decade we have received more complaints about this issue from Montgomery County than any other jurisdiction in the state,” the release states.

“I would absolutely like an apology not just for me but for all the students that this happens to,” Enidris said. “I definitely feel the policy should be implemented better, teachers should know what the policy is.”

jbondeson@gazette.net

pmcewan@gazette.net