The Fort Worth Independent School District issued a national anthem protest policy for student athletes who prefer to kneel at high school sporting events.
This announcement came one week after the school district floated the idea of instituting national anthem protest guidelines. At the time, Fort Worth ISD’s athletic director Todd Vesely intimated any forthcoming rules would be “positive and proactive” to do “everything we can for our young people to express themselves in a non-disruptive way” where protesters and non-protesters “need to be respected.”
On Thursday, Fort Worth ISD spokesman Clint Bond announced the policy in a statement:
In regards to student participation during the playing of the National Anthem prior to sporting events, or at any time prior to, during, or after Fort Worth ISD activities, the District is strongly encouraging all students, whether on the field or in the stands, to respect and obey the law.
We are encouraging our coaching staff to discuss with their student athletes what it means to obey the law. This is all a part of the process that is the mission of the Fort Worth ISD in preparing young people for success in college, career, and community leadership.
Local news outlets asked the Fort Worth ISD spokesman to clarify what he meant by “respect and obey the law” regarding kneeling during the national anthem. Bond responded: “The literal meaning is to do what the case laws have outlined regarding your own personal activities, as well as the activities of others.”
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported the school district consulted with attorneys in 2016 when several football players expressed interest in “taking a knee” after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first kneeled in protest during the national anthem. Fort Worth ISD relied on case law for guidance.
They reviewed Holloman v. Walker County Board of Education, according to the Fort Worth newspaper. In this 2001 U.S. District Court case for the Northern District of Alabama, a student protested during the Pledge of Allegiance by raising a fist and remaining silent. School officials disciplined the student, arguing the youth’s actions were disruptive. By 2004, the case escalated to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where the majority ruled school children have the constitutional right to refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance as long as they do not disrupt the educational process of the class in any real way.
The case cited the 1943 West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette. Here, students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to salute the U.S. flag saying it was against their religious beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court held students may not be required to salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance at public schools if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.
The act of standing for the U.S. flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” intends to show respect for all those who risked their lives or died defending the United States and the nation’s ideals.
Chapter 25 of the Texas Education Code requires students recite the Pledge of Allegiance and observe one minute of silence daily, however, schools will excuse students with a written request from the parent or guardian.
Essentially, the Fort Worth ISD policy allows student athletes to protest peacefully and respectfully during the national anthem and as long as they discussed this with coaches and staff, noted the Star-Telegram.
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