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Taking a Knee During the National Anthem and How Schools Are Addressing Students' Right to Protest

While President Trump’s feud with NFL players who don’t stand for the national anthem has taken center stage both in stadiums and on Twitter, the trickle effect has been felt all the way down to high school football.

With high school and middle school football season in full-swing, schools around the country have found themselves faced with the task of handling such protests. While the ways in which the issue is addressed vary from school district to school district, the issue of students’ right to protest is just the latest in what seems like an ever-growing list of hot-button topics teachers and staff must address.

Under federal and state law, teachers and students don’t leave their First Amendment rights at the door when they enter onto school property. While standing for the national anthem or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance may be common practice and socially couth, it can’t legally be forced. Students, teachers, parents, and schools point to the 1943 Supreme Court case of West Virginia State Board of Education as an example of this. The court ruled that a school would be in violation of students’ free-speech rights for forcing Jehovah's Witnesses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Regardless of this, some schools such as Bossier Parish Schools in Louisiana have made it known that students could face consequences should they choose not to stand during the national anthem.

"It is a choice for students to participate in extracurricular activities, not a right, and we at Bossier Schools feel strongly that our teams and organizations should stand in unity to honor our nation's military and veterans," Superintendent Scott Smith said in a statement. Smith added that “the least Bossier Schools can do is expect our student-athletes to stand in solidarity,” referencing the Barksdale Air Force Base, located in the Bossier Parish.

According to Smith, consequences will be handed down to students who do not stand for the national anthem and will be up to the discretion of each school's principals and coaches.

The move quickly drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union’s Louisiana chapter with Marjorie Esman, the chapter’s executive director, calling it, “antithetical to our values as Americans and a threat to students’ constitutional rights."

"It has been a tradition at Houston Independent School District athletic events for participants and fans alike to stand in honor of the American flag and the playing of the National Anthem at the beginning of such contests," read a statement. "HISD also protects the constitutional right of student-athletes, as set forth explicitly in HISD Board Policy FNA (LEGAL), not to participate in that tradition."

The issue is undoubtedly going to come up among students both on Monday mornings after Sunday's NFL games and likely towards the end of the week as schools prepare for their own Friday night football games.

The decision to stand or kneel presents educators with an opportunity to discuss First Amendment rights and why a player might choose to kneel and how it relates to past movements.

Protests have historically been met with resistance, but it’s important that educators not sit out on the discussion of the freedoms allowed to all of us.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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