Discussing difficult issues: The Pledge of Allegiance in school

The Knight Crier’s Daelin Brown sat down with NPHS Principal Dr. Todd Bauer to discuss what happens if a student does not want to stand for the pledge.


Daelin Brown

Students stand for the pledge during a first period English class at North Penn High School.

Due to various developments around the nation over the last year or better, there has been an increasing amount of resistance and protest concerning racial injustice within the United States. This reality is probably not new to many. News stories and headlines have made sure of that.

After Colin Kaepernick started kneeling for the national anthem, people of all ages who felt the same way he did began to protest both the national anthem and pledge of allegiance. Since the West Virginia State Board of Education V. Barnette (1943) case ruled that forcing a student to recite or stand for the pledge was unconstitutional, these protests have filtered into many public schools. For instance, at the beginning of February in a Colorado middle school, a student refused to stand for the pledge; however, the teacher, Karen Smith, allegedly assaulted the student for not standing and is now on administrative leave. This situation was clearly avoidable with better communication.

Certainly North Penn is not exempt from students choosing not to stand for the pledge; therefore, North Penn High School’s principal Dr. Todd Bauer has considered how to handle situations that could, but have not yet occured with these protests. Dr. Bauer stressed that this problem has not existed ever before at North Penn, but communication would be the way to solve a problem in this nature.

“This has not happened here yet, but do I believe that some students here are not standing. To my knowledge it has not become an issue so we are speaking hypothetical,” Bauer explained.

While the debates and discussions surrounding the anthem and pledge have received a lot of attention nationally, the strife and tension that almost always follows has not taken root at North Penn. Though, in an effort to understand how a public high school views these circumstances, I sat down with Dr. Bauer for an open discussion on his views of this matter.


Question: How you would go about handling a situation that is brought to your attention where a student did not stand for the pledge and a teacher either asked the student to stand or questions the student on not standing?

“If a teacher came to me concerned that they have asked a student to stand and the student refuses, I would most likely pull the student in. I like to hear the student’s perspective on things and try to get a full picture before I come up with a solution. I would probably call the student down and ask them why. Is this simply an act of defiance because I can or are you trying to bring awareness to something you believe is a social injustice. From there I am not going to and quite frankly can’t make a student stand in that situation. I think I would be more solution focused. If it is causing friction between the teacher and the student, or if they believe they are detracting from the environment in the classroom; I would talk to the student and the teacher together eventually and see if there is a better way to address the student’s objective. If the student’s objective is to address social injustice, is there a way to not cause friction between student and said teacher that would still accomplish what you are trying to accomplish. That being said I would respect the student’s stance, I would not force the student to stand in the long run; if ultimately the student says they are just not standing for the pledge I would have to work with the staff member through that and make sure they are aware of the legal precedent.”


Question: How should a student go about bringing this situation to your attention if the student feels uncomfortable by how a teacher reacts to their actions?

“I take a lot of pride in the fact that I think I am a man of the people here at North Penn. Kids feel like they can send me an email, reach out to me or just catch me in the hall and talk to me, so I would think that would be the best way of doing so. I would not have a confrontation with the student via email. Often kids shoot me an email because they are upset about something, and I will say I appreciate your concern but theses issues are best faced face to face. I like to sit down with the kids and gain their perspective, but also I think it’s important for them to understand mine. In a case where a student or staff member is having an issue with this issue, I think we should talk about it. So I think the best way to do it is to send me an email or grab me in the hallway and we can talk about it.”


Question: Would it be appropriate to have a debate in school since we are a public school, why you choose to stand or not stand for the pledge of allegiance?

“There’s a lot of legal precedent out there when it comes to first amendment rights for staff members and teachers versus students. When you are teaching and you are standing in front of a classroom, you are acting as an entity of the school district. If it is not related to the curriculum, an employee speaking about their political beliefs, it is assumed by children and their parents that they are acting on behalf of the school district. They do not have the freedom of speech exclusively. Do I think it’s appropriate for teachers to lead students in conversation when it is not related to the curriculum: it depends how they go about doing so. They should not be sharing their own political beliefs. They need to be bipartisan, and share perspectives. I would probably tell a teacher to stay away from the issue unless it pertains to your curriculum. Engaging students in conversation and a healthy discussion in a debate class, yes; in a social studies class, yes; maybe even public speaking, yes; these are things that would be appropriate. When you are talking about force and friction in a physics class and bring up a conversation about standing or kneeling for the pledge, probably not the most appropriate place.”


Question: Some students choose to not stop in the hallway because of the same beliefs of not standing for the pledge. Due to this, how should a student react if a teacher or staff member asks them to stop in the hall because the staff member may not know the student is not pausing in the hall because of certain beliefs?

“I will say please pause, but I will not chase down a student that doesn’t. I may engage that student in a conversation and say, ‘talk to me a little bit about why you didn’t pause.’ It goes back to what is your objective or purpose. Many kids frankly don’t pause because they are late to class. They aren’t trying to disrespect the flag or disrespect anyone. If you are saying please pause, you are already late. If you’re soul motivation is that you don’t have time to pause because you have to get to class, you do. If it’s a protest due to social injustice, that is a whole different conversation. I’m not blind to the fact that student’s listen to me because I’m the principal, but also I think they listen because I am respectful. I can’t recall a time that I said please pause, and people didn’t listen. If I were faced with that situation I would try to engage that student, not confrontationally, but saying ‘help me understand.’ I think the best way for a student to go about that would be to do the exact same thing. If said teacher asks a student to pause and the student didn’t want to pause because of a social injustice, I would recommend that they do pause, but then engage said teacher in a conversation. I think that’s a great way to obtain that objective of talking about it because then the student is spreading the message. Also I would like to reiterate that I’m not saying students must pause and they don’t have to stand either.”

“For example, George, a security guard here, is an African American who served for the state police. A lot of the kneeling and protests to social injustices have to deal with what I believe is related to the police and the black lives matter movement. I asked George his stance, as a former police officer and a black man, but also he works with youth on a daily basis now, and he said ‘I would never kneel because I think it’s disrespectful to the men and women who have served our country, and disrespectful to our flag; however, I get it.’ He understands why people do it, but he wouldn’t.”

As the issue becomes more prevalent on the news, discussing how to handle an incident, should one occur, was very appropriate. The recurring theme of communication was emphasized because Dr. Bauer makes it clear that communication would prevent situations, such as the one that occured in the Colorado middle school, to happen at North Penn.