School reverses Pledge of Allegiance policy after criticism

An Atlanta charter school moved the timing of its recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as the school year started, but reversed course after the move attracted criticism.

The Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School’s early all-school meeting of students and parents had traditionally included the pledge, until this year. Elementary campus principal Lara Zelski notified parents that the pledge was being moved to classrooms because of concerns from some parents and students.

She explained: “Over the past couple of years it has become increasingly obvious that more and more of our community were choosing to not stand and/or recite the pledge. There are many emotions around this and we want everyone in our school family to start their day in a positive manner. After all, that is the whole purpose of our morning meeting.”

She proposed creating a school pledge for the all-school meeting based on “students’ civic responsibility to their school family, community, country and our global society.”

Not all parents were in agreement with the move, after they found out.

An early morning online news headline on said the pledge had been eliminated from the morning ritual. The story mentioned moving the pledge to a later time, but political news sites seized on the word “elimination” in the headline, attracting backlash, and the school's reversal by the end of Thursday.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, weighed in, praising the Pledge of Allegiance's tenets and ending with, “I’m sure our House Education Committee will examine whether taxpayer funds should be used to instill such a divisive ideology in our students.”

Gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp jumped in, doubling down on Ralston’s statement.

By about 6:15 p.m., the school issued a statement saying its policies were aligned with those of the Georgia Department of Education but " … it appears there was some miscommunication and inconsistency in the rollout. Starting next week, we will return to our original format and provide our students with the opportunity to recite the Pledge during the all-school morning meeting."

The state DOE policy demands that schools set a time for the pledge, each school day, at the beginning of the school day or during the homeroom period. But students may not be compelled to recite the pledge, it adds.

Districts across metro Atlanta abide by both aspects of the policy - doing the pledge and giving the right to not participate.

Superintendent Morcease J. Beasley of Clayton County said: “Students are offered the opportunity to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. If they choose to participate or not is their individual and constitutional right and the reason the flag of the United States of America exists. Anything that removes their right to choose to participate as their conscience dictates, in my opinion, is un-American and immoral.”

Controversy over reciting the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t new.

In 1943, the United States Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote ruled it is unconstitutional to compel students to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

More recently, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided that requiring parental permission to opt out of the pledge does not violate the rights of young people.

Some school systems, such as Henry County, let students opt out with parental approval only, according to a system handbook.

The Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School is a K-8 charter school with two campuses formed by the merger of two charter schools that have been operating in the Grant Park and Ormewood Park neighborhoods since 2002.