Can Lafayette schools’ pledge policy be enforced?

An American flag in a classroom at Bossier High School.
(Photo: Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)
An American flag in a classroom at Bossier High School. (Photo: Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)

(The Daily Advertiser) – Two months after maintaining a district policy requiring students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, many Lafayette Parish School Board members say they don’t regret their decision.

However, they acknowledged the policy may hold little weight in light of federal law.

Last spring and summer, Lafayette Parish was at the forefront of the debate when a student, then at Acadiana High, alleged he was threatened with punishment when he sat during the daily pledge.

District officials recommended changing the local policy, but the board opted to keep it in place.

Now, the subject has arisen again, although not necessarily in Lafayette.

Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, sent an open letter to the state’s superintendents last week about the matter.

According to the letter, some Louisiana students have opted not to stand for the pledge at their schools. The letter does not say how many students, or in which parts of the state, have sat during the pledge.

“This letter is to advise you that schools may not punish students for refusing to stand for the Pledge or to salute the flag,” Esman wrote. “Any such punishments violate the clear rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court and the fundamental rights of your students.”

Lafayette Parish School Board member Britt Latiolais said the issue is “a double-edged sword.”

“I would like to see the school board adopt a policy that we defer to the federal law. My personal belief will always be that you should stand because it’s a sign of respect, but there’s no need for us as a board to have a policy if federal law trumps it,” Latiolais said.

Board member Elroy Broussard said he did not anticipate the board revisiting its policy in the near future.

“The Constitution states that we cannot make it mandatory for anyone to stand,” Broussard said. “I guess we’ll have to obey everybody’s right. We’ve got to obey what is written … It doesn’t solve anything to change it because some will follow the policy and some won’t, and they have a Constitutional right.”

Board member Jeremy Hidalgo, who voted to maintain the Lafayette policy, said his stance remains the same.

Hidalgo said he has not heard any complaints about the policy requiring students to stand.

“I haven’t changed. I don’t intend to change,” Hidalgo said. “My position is not any different than it was before. Everyone seems to be complying with it to the best of my knowledge.”

Board member Erick Knezek noted that board policies “are always in a state of review” to ensure districts are in compliance with education laws.

“My personal belief is that as a public body and educational institution, our policy must be to recite the pledge daily,” Knezek said via email. “I don’t believe having a policy to require the Pledge of Allegiance daily and a person’s right to refuse are mutually exclusive. You can have both. We must find a way to respect our nation and the people honoring our nation by reciting the pledge, and those that choose to refuse that honor and respect by sitting during the recitation.”

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