Texas AG backs school that expelled black student for sitting out Pledge of Allegiance

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Student Sues School After Being Expelled For Sitting During Pledge of Allegiance

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The Texas attorney general has intervened in a 2017 lawsuit filed by a Houston teen who said she was expelled from school for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Attorney General Ken Paxton last week filed a motion to intervene in the federal lawsuit filed by India Landry and her mother, Kizzy Landry. In the motion, Paxton defends a Texas law that requires students to stand and recite the pledge, unless excused from the "time-honored tradition" through written request from a parent or guardian.

"School children cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge," Paxton said in a news release.

>> Related story: Student says she was expelled for sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance

India Landry, now 18, argues in her October 2017 federal lawsuit that she sat out the reciting of the pledge approximately 200 times, with no consequences, while a student at other schools in the Cypress-Fairbank Independent School District. As a senior at Windfern High School, things changed, the lawsuit says.

India was sent to the office multiple times during the spring semester for failing to stand during the pledge, the lawsuit states. That fall, she was in Principal Martha Strother’s office on another matter when the pledge was recited over the intercom.

According to the lawsuit, when India again refused to stand, Strother told her, “Well, you’re kicked outta here.”

The lawsuit alleges that Assistant Principal Penny Irwin-Fitt called India’s mother and told her she had five minutes to pick her daughter up before police officers would escort the girl from the school.

The suit also alleges that the school secretary told India, “This is not the NFL.”

India told Houston news station KHOU that she, like the dozens of NFL players who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem, chose to sit out the pledge as part of a silent protest of police brutality against people of color.

"I don't think that the flag is what it says it's for, for liberty and justice and all that," India told the news station. "It's not obviously what's going on in America today."

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The protest that got India kicked out of school came just days after President Donald Trump suggested NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem, The Washington Post reported.

The NFL protests initiated by quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched similar protests in other arenas, including the nation’s schools. The protests quickly saw backlash from those who saw them as unpatriotic.

"Before this case, never one time did I hear of any school forcing kids to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance," the Landrys attorney, Randall Kallinen, told the Post Wednesday. "Then, in two weeks, I had three calls."

Paxton also cited patriotism as the reasoning for requiring the pledge to be recited each school day.

"Requiring the pledge to be recited at the start of every school day has the laudable result of fostering respect for our flag and a patriotic love of our country," Paxton said in his news release. "This case is about providing for the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance while respecting the parental right to direct the education of children. The district court should uphold the education code and the right of parents to determine whether their children will recite the Pledge of Allegiance."

>> Related story: Do students have to stand for the Pledge, anthem?

The American Civil Liberties Union said last year that students have the right to refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. That right comes from a 1943 caseWest Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forcing students to recite the pledge -- and punishing them if they refuse -- violates the students' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The Landrys' lawsuit states that school administrators refused to allow India to return to class until after KHOU reported on the controversy. Following the negative publicity, she was allowed to return to school and sit during the pledge as she had for years.

Several of her teachers did not allow her to make up assignments, however, which caused her grades to slip, the lawsuit says.

The lawyer representing the Landry family argues that the administrators’ actions violated India’s constitutional rights and that she was discriminated against based on her race. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages.

It also seeks to have all Cypress-Fairbanks ISD employees trained in students’ right to choose whether to recite the pledge and to have any employee who interferes with that right disciplined.

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