The Sioux Falls School Board taught us all a lesson in bullying this week. They taught us to let bullies win.
Earlier this month, the board caught heck for not going far enough in forcing students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom. On November 12, the board wrote into policy an ongoing practice of requiring elementary and middle school students to say the Christian socialist flag-selling line daily. They declined to expand that policy to high schoolers, citing the incorrect and spineless answer that high schoolers are too busy rather than seizing the teachable moment and telling patrio-pietists that compelled speech is unconstitutional.
KELO and FOX News misrepresented that decision as a vote to ban the Pledge, and folks with nothing better to do went ape. School board members received death threats and other unconscionable calls and e-mails.
And Monday night, the school board gave in to that bullying and made the Pledge mandatory at all grade levels.
Well, not quite. The Sioux Falls School District covers its constitutional backside with the passive voice and a conscience clause. The policy now reads "The Pledge of Allegiance or other patriotic activity will be performed each day in Sioux Falls School District classrooms." It does not say by whom. Technically, a teacher could mutter the words herself on arrival, before kids get to class, and fulfill the letter of that policy.
The board also protects students who resist compelled speech:
Anyone who does not wish to participate in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or patriotic activity for any personal reasons may elect not to do so. Students and school personnel must respect another person’s right to make that choice [Sioux Falls School District, Policy IMDB-R, revised 2013.11.25].
Imposing that onerous choice on students is still unfair. Some kids have the nerve to stand up to conformist pressure. But the school has no business creating more conformist pressure and dumping it in kids' laps to protect their own constitutional liberty against possible bullying. If certain adults are capable of making irrational threats against school board members for not passing a policy on the Pledge, certain children are capable of teasing and bullying fellow students who choose to stand out from the crowd by not performing a patriotic spectacle to prove their loyalty. The Sioux Falls School Board's pledge policy
This blog exists to tell bullies that they will not win. The Sioux Falls School Board should have the same goal. The Sioux Falls failed to uphold that goal this week.
p.s.: The Sioux Falls School Board opens each meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. I wonder what would happen if a school board member chose not to mouth those words in unison with his or her elected fellows.
pp.s.: The Sioux Falls School Board did show a little common sense Monday when it backed off its proposal to ban teachers from watching their own kids in their classrooms after school.