A Florida sixth-grader who deemed the American flag “racist” soon found himself in police custody after allegedly refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Now, the 11-year-old student is facing misdemeanor charges.
“I’m upset. I’m angry. I’m hurt,” the boy’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, told BayNews9. “More so for my son. My son has never been through anything like this. I feel this should’ve been handled differently.”
The incident unfolded Feb. 4 inside Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in the Tampa suburb of Lakeland after a substitute teacher grew upset at the student when she asked him to stand for the pledge. According to an arrest report, the student allegedly told the sub he wouldn’t stand for the pledge “because the flag of this country is racist,” then added that the national anthem is offensive to Black Americans.
That’s when Talbot said the sub told her son to “go back to your homeland.”
“He was confused,” Talbot told local station WTSP. “He said, ‘What do you mean? Africa?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’”
Substitute teacher Ana Alvarez detailed the incident in a statement to Polk County School District officials, explaining how she took offense to the student’s comment and asked him why he didn’t go to another place if it was so bad here. The boy then replied, “they brought me here.”
“Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I’m not welcome here any more I would find another place to live,” Alvarez reported telling the 11-year-old before calling the school’s office “because I did not want to continue dealing with him.”
Things escalated quickly after a school resource officer and the school’s dean arrived. The arrest affidavit claims the student refused multiple commands to leave the classroom and proceeded to call school leaders racist. His disruptive behavior continued, as he reportedly threatened to “beat that teacher” and have the school resource officer fired.
Police ultimately arrested the boy on charges of disrupting a school function and resisting an officer without violence, both of which are misdemeanors.
The student and his mother denied he ever threatened to harm anyone. Talbot argued that Alvarez’s actions were “way out of place” and is now fighting to have the charges against her child dropped.
“I want the charges dropped and I want the school to be held accountable for what happened because it shouldn’t have been handled the way it was handled,” she told BayNews9.
A spokeswoman for the school district said students are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Alvarez wasn’t aware of this policy, however, and will no longer be working for the district, she said. In fact, a 1943 landmark Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, determined that government cannot compel expressions of patriotism, finding that a West Virginia school’s attempt to force two Jehovah’s Witnesses student to salute the flag violated their First Amendment rights.
In a statement, the Lakeland Police Department reiterated that the student was not arrested for refusing to stand and recite the pledge.
“This arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom,” the statement read. After the school resource officer unsuccessfully tried calming him down, the student relented only to “create another disturbance and make threats while he was escorted to the office”