By Ariel Steinsaltz
On Feb. 4, an 11-year-old student in Florida was arrested for allegedly disrupting his classroom after refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, according to USA Today.
The boy, who attends the sixth grade at the Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida, told his substitute teacher, Ana Alvarez, that he would not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because the American flag is “racist” and told her that the national anthem is offensive to black people, according to USA Today.
In response, she asked him why he did not go live somewhere else since it was “‘so bad’” here. The boy countered by saying, “they brought me here,” according to a handwritten statement from Alvarez that The Washington Post credited.
Alvarez, an immigrant from Cuba, told the boy that he could go back if he wanted and that she would do so if she ever felt unwelcome in the U.S. Alvarez called the office because she did not want to keep “‘dealing with him,’” according to USA Today.
An officer and school administrator tried to calm the boy down and asked him to leave the classroom more than 20 times. He refused and allegedly made threats as he was escorted to the office, according to USA Today.
The student reportedly yelled at the administrative dean and the school resource officer from the Lakeland Police Department, accused them of being racist and refused to leave the room.
The affidavit stated that as he walked out of the classroom the sixth grader said, “‘Suspend me! I don’t care. This school is racist,’” The Washington Post reported.
He was taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center and charged with “disrupting a school function and resisting an officer without violence,” according to USA Today.
The Washington Post reported that the student is facing misdemeanor charges.
“‘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,’” police said.
The boy’s mother denied the accusation of him of threatening to beat the teacher and asked for the charges to be dropped, USA Today reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida reprimanded the school amidst the ensuing controversy, saying that students’ First Amendment rights do not go away when they go to school.
The boy’s mother said that the school overstepped its authority and that any disciplinary action should have been handled by the school, without arresting the student, according to The Washington Post.
On Feb. 19, Roderick O. Ford, a lawyer for the student’s family, said the family had refused a deal that involved him participating in a diversion program, which could include a fine and community service because he did not accept the version of facts laid out by the school and police department.
The lawyer also said he planned to file a civil rights complaint with the federal Department of Education because the boy was punished for exercising his First Amendment rights. Later that day the state attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit in Florida stated that the student would not be prosecuted and the case was closed, as reported by the The New York Times.