Brookline School to Clarify Pledge Policy After Furor over Permission Slips
Superintendent says school won't enforce parents' selection on form.
Brookline school officials now say a permission slip won't be necessary for Devotion School kids to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance and insist the document sent home earlier this week was only meant to "encourage discussion."
The clarification, which will be spelled out in an email blast later today, comes less than a week after parents received a packet from the school that appeared to ask them to decide whether their children would participate in the weekly recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Unlike other Brookline schools, Devotion has not had an official recitation of the pledge in recent years.
School Superintendent Bill Lupini said this morning that the document, which he called a "sign-off form," was optional and meant to spur discussion between parents and their children over the significance of the pledge. He said the school would not enforce parent's selection on the form and children would be free to decide how and if they want to participate.
"It was meant to ensure that there was a conversation betweens students and parents in their home about the Pledge of Allegiance before they came and experienced this implementation of the district policy," Lupini said. "No one would be compelled to do anything stand up or sit down, recite or not recite, according to what their parent may have indicated on their form."
Brookline policy requires all teachers to lead their class in reciting the pledge at least once a week, but Lupini said some schools, like Devotion, have not been reading the pledge in compliance with the policy. He said some parents raised the issue with the administration and he met with principals from throughout the town to figure out how to bring them in line with district policy.
Lupini said the principal of the Devotion School, Gerardo Martinez, decided to send home a letter to inform them of the change in practice.
"I urge you to have a conversation as a family to help your children understand why I will be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and to support them in feeling comfortable and confident in the decision on whether or not to participate," Martinez said in a letter that accompanied the packet. "Whatever decision you and your child make will be fully respected."
Massachusetts law requires that public school teachers recite the pledge with students at the start of each school day, but it only imposes punishment after a teacher or school has failed to recite the pledge for two consecutive weeks. The fine for violation of the law is $5, though Lupini said the fine has not been enforced.
Isabel Giraud, president of the Devotion PTO, said she'd heard "a lot of comments" from parents since the letter went home, but wouldn't say which way parents are leaning.
"In the school community, parents are a part of the dialogue and I think that's what that letter indicates," she said.
Below is the text of Principal Martinez's follow-up letter to parents, which is expected be sent out tonight:
Dear Devotion Families,
Yesterday and today I have received several voice mail messages and email correspondence asking for clarification around the tear-off section at the bottom of the "Pledge of Allegiance" letter that I sent on December 20, 2010. The Brookline TAB referred to this portion of the letter as a "permission slip." This section should not be construed in that manner, but rather, as a mechanism to encourage families to have a discussion about the Pledge of Allegiance at home. Providing a response to this section is not mandatory; instead, it is hoped that you will engage in a conversation with your children about the meaning and history of the Pledge of Allegiance. My intent was to show respect to our families, the diversity in our community, and the age span of students we teach. The most salient points for all families to garner from the letter are that we will follow State law and district policy around the recitation of the Pledge, and that we respect your children's right to opt in or opt out.
In addition, there have been inquiries about the use of the words "under God" in the Pledge. As many of you know, these words were added to the Pledge in 1954 by a Joint Resolution of Congress. In November 2010, the First Circuit Court of Appeals determined that inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge does not violate students' Constitutional rights. The attachment to the letter you received contains what are believed to be historical interpretations of the language in the Pledge, and are not intended to reflect the beliefs of individual citizens.
My purpose in this communication is to provide clarity on this important matter as we take steps to comply with the system policy. Please contact me with any questions or concerns.
Gerardo Martinez, Principal
This is the text of the original letter sent to parents earlier this week:
Dear Devotion Families,
Many of you are aware that Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 71, Section 69, requires a flag to be displayed in each school classroom. This law also requires classes to be lead in a group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag Public Schools of Brookline policy provides that this recitation may take place weekly.
Additionally, as part of that Massachusetts History/Social Science frameworks and the Brookline Learning Expectations (BLE) there is a learning objective that students be able to "Demonstrate understanding that there are important American symbols by identifying ... the words of the Pledge of Allegiance."
In order to meet the state legal mandate for public schools and to support our learning expectations, I will, once a week, as part of my morning announcements, recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Classroom teachers, as with any announcement, will bring the class to silence. Students and teachers may choose to stand and recite the pledge but are not legally required to do so.
Under our Constitution, neither teachers nor students can be mandated to participate in this exercise. This is each person's personal choice. I urge you to have a conversation as a family to help your children understand why I will be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and to support them in feeling comfortable and confident in the decision on whether or not to participate.
Whatever decision you and your child make will be fully respected. Please fill out the section below and return to your child's homeroom teacher. I anticipate that we will begin recitation of the Pledge after the New Year.
On a personal note, I am proud to be a first generation Cuban American and I appreciate the opportunities my family has found in our great nation.