Barre School Board: Teachers must lead pledge
BARRE — Students may opt out if they wish, but teachers at Barre City Elementary and Middle School will now be compelled to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every school day.
The school board voted 5-2 in favor of instructing teachers to make the pledge a daily practice.
The issue surfaced recently when one board member expressed concern that the pledge was being recited sporadically in some classes and not at all in others.
Moments after reciting the pledge, as they do at the start of every meeting, school commissioners launched into a spirited discussion that skipped from whether the practice was really necessary to whether all students at Barre’s pre-K-8 school should be afforded the same opportunity on a daily basis.
John Steinman, who raised the issue, said he had no qualms if students chose not to participate but that he believed there was an inherent value to offering a daily reminder of community responsibility and good citizenship.
“By not doing it, like we’re doing now, we take away that opportunity,” he said, calling for a change in the current practice, which gives teachers broad discretion when it comes to deciding whether and how frequently their students are given an official opportunity to salute the flag.
Anita Chadderton agreed.
“We need the children to be saying (the pledge), but not only saying it. I want to see them taught about what it really means,” she said. “These kids need to learn this.”
Leslie Walz offered a dissenting view. Walz questioned the board’s own practice of reciting the pledge at the start of every meeting while defending her own patriotism and wondering whether the issue really required board action.
“I feel like I’m a really good citizen. I love my country, but I don’t feel like I need to stand here and reaffirm that publicly and periodically,” Walz said.
“I do think children should learn (the pledge),” she added, agreeing with Chadderton on one point. “They should learn what it is and what it means.”
Given what some view as objectionable language — most notably the words “under God” — in the pledge, Walz worried about making it mandatory for either students or staff.
Two parents who attended to speak on the subject were on the other side of the issue. Marcy Kelly was one of them.
“The only way children are going to learn this, … become passionate about this and learn this from the heart is through repetition,” Kelly said. “It’s not doing it once a week, once a month (or) whenever the teacher feels like it.”
According to Kelly, taking a minute or more to salute the flag each day was a “no-brainer,” though she agreed students who object for any reason should be excused.
Kelly, who has one son whose teacher regularly leads the pledge and another who wishes his teacher would, said it shouldn’t be optional.
“Every student, every morning, should be given that opportunity (to salute the flag) … led by their teacher,” she said.
“I’m not saying make the kids. I’m saying make the teachers,” she added.
Kelly said she had little tolerance for those who view the language as offensive or objectionable and warned the board not to think about editing the Pledge of Allegiance.
“There is no sugarcoating this. You either say it right or don’t say it at all,” she said. “We are catering too much to people who don’t like the way things are. Too bad. This is the United States of America. This is the way we do things, and if you don’t like it, there’s the border. You don’t have to stay.”
Parent Thomas Bishop echoed that assessment, describing the fact that the pledge had become an optional part of the school routine as a “slap in the face” to Americans who fought and died for their country.
“I can’t even believe we’re discussing this,” he said. “This is America.”
Anita Ristau joined Walz in voting against the motion — not because she doesn’t believe the pledge should be recited regularly, she said, but because she believes that it is.
“I don’t see the need for a motion if we’re already doing this,” Ristau said.
According to Principal James Taffel, most elementary school teachers he’d spoken to have made the pledge part of their regular — if not daily — routine.
Board member Sonya Spaulding said she was aware of classes where that was not the case.
“They may say it once in a while, but it’s not said on a very regular basis,” Spaulding said.
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